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Can Switzerland’s ski season withstand Omicron surge?

As the highly contagious variant spreads rapidly through Switzerland, the question is whether skiing is still a safe activity from an epidemiological point of view and whether further rules could curtail winter sports.

Skiing equipment laid out on wood
So far, Omicron has not impacted the pleasure of skiing in the Swiss Alps. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini /AFP

There is abundant snow in Swiss mountains at the moment, beckoning skiers from far and near to hit the slopes.

However, latest data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) shows that in Valais and Graubünden, cantons where most ski resorts are located, contagion rates are among the highest in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Covid hotspots: ‘More hospitalisations’ predicted for Switzerland’s as cases increase

But unlike neighbouring Austria, where some tourism officials are calling for temporary closure of certain ski areas, there are no such plans in Switzerland at the moment

And if you are coming to ski from abroad, you will find Switzerland’s entry rules slightly relaxed, as the government scrapped the travel quarantine in favour of tests upon entry.

But is it safe to ski with Omicron spreading like wildfire?

One good thing about skiing and winter sports in general is that it’s an outdoor activity, and while the risk of catching Omicron — or any other virus for that matter — isn’t zero, it is significantly lower than when people gather in closed spaces, epidemiologists say.

The real risk lies in indoor and unventilated areas, and Switzerland has measures in place for that. One is that closed cable cars (as opposed to open-air chair lifts) must have capacity restrictions, which means large gondolas accommodating more than 25 people will have their capacity reduced to 70 percent to allow people to keep as much distance as possible.

In terms of eating out and entertainment, Switzerland has implemented the 2G and 2G-Plus rules for all indoor venues like bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms, cinemas, etc. You can read about what these regulations entail here:

2G: Switzerland targets unvaccinated with new Covid measures

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s 2G-Plus rule?

What if you catch Covid while in a ski resort?

If Switzerland is not your home, you will have to isolate in your hotel or rented accommodation.

On Wednesday, the Federal Council proposed shortening the duration of quarantine period for infected people and their close companions to five days from the current 10 and seven, respectively. The proposed measure in now under consultation by cantons until January 17th.

Is Switzerland set to implement further rules for ski areas?

On January 5th, the government decided against new measures.

It stated, however, that “stricter measures (including closings) are ready” if the situation continues to deteriorate.

According to Health Minister Alain Berset, the crucial metric is not how many people are contracting the virus, but how many of those infected fall seriously ill and need to be hospitalised.

“The decisive factor is how many Omicron infected people need intensive care”,  he said

At the moment, ICUs are not overcrowded, but experts say that is likely to change soon, as Switzerland is expected to reach the peak of the Omicron wave within one to three weeks.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”