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Should Switzerland abolish quarantines and roll back testing for Covid-19?

Even though the quarantine period has already been cut from seven to five days, some Swiss heath experts say confinement — and in some cases screening as well — should be scrapped altogether.

Will Switzerland scrap its quarantine requirement, as some experts propose? Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Will Switzerland scrap its quarantine requirement, as some experts propose? Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

While this may seem like a risky move while Omicron continues to infect tens of thousands of people each day, a number of Swiss experts believe quarantines and, in some cases testing, are useless.

As nearly 215,000 people in Switzerland are currently confined to their homes because they either tested positive or were in contact with an infected person, some health experts are calling for the end to quarantines.

They question the usefulness of quarantines for preventive purposes, as well as mass testing, in curbing the spread of the Omicron variant.

READ MORE: Switzerland to cut quarantine period for vaccinated and extend current measures

“Currently, counting undeclared cases, we have between 50,000 and 100,000 infections per day. One can wonder if someone who is in quarantine because he is a contact case still represents a greater risk than others who move around freely in society”, said Jürg Utzinger, director of the Tropical and Public Health Institute.

Under these circumstances, and given the economic costs of home confinements, it would be better to abolish quarantines and widespread testing until the number of cases drops to a much lower level, he said.

And once the numbers return to a lower threshold and become more manageable and easier to trace, both testing and quarantines could return to prevent infections from soaring again, Utzinger pointed out.

At the moment, however, it is necessary to establish priorities by reserving PCR tests for symptomatic people or those who work in exposed sectors, such as healthcare, according to Utzinger.

In the meantime, “we must temporarily suspend mass testing so as not to overload the laboratories”, he noted.

READ MORE: Switzerland drops PCR tests for confirming positive rapid antigen test

Philipp Walter, president of the Swiss Union for Laboratory Medicine, agrees. “You have to ask yourself how much screening still makes sense. Testing does not cure. And if so many people are infected, it is better to assume that everyone can be positive”, he said.

As for immunologist Daniel Speiser, quarantines are not very useful, but screening remains important.

“Even if the results of the PCR tests arrive late, they still have the effect of curbing contamination,” he noted.

On the positive note, and echoing the view of many other health experts, Speiser believes that Omicron will put an end to the pandemic, as this variant will not be supplanted by another in the foreseeable future.

“Omicron is so successful that it is difficult to beat it,” he quipped.

Utzinger agrees: “We will very soon experience the peak of this wave and the number of cases will then decrease as quickly as it has increased”.

What other, looser measures are being proposed in Switzerland?

After Spain has proclaimed it wants to stop counting daily infection rates and instead treat Covid the same way as a seasonal flu — that is, with selective surveillance — some Swiss experts said they support this approach.

Valérie D’Acremont, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Lausanne, believes Switzerland should follow the Spanish strategy and adopt the same monitoring system as it already has in place for counting flu cases.

This new approach would signal the transition from a pandemic mode to an endemic one, meaning the disease is commonly found among the population and its evolution has become predictable.

Health Minister Alain Berset has recently mentioned this transition “from a pandemic to an endemic phase with high levels of immunity already reached” in Switzerland.

Even so, it is too early to end quarantine and testing, Berset pointed out.

“We can’t say that this week, or the next, it will be possible to remove all the measures that are currently in place”.

Member comments

  1. Abolish immediately, and keep restrictions on the over 50s if neccessary, seeing as they are the ones filling ICUs

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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.”