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COVID-19 RULES

Reader question: Which Swiss cantons will keep the Covid certificate in place?

Several Swiss cantons have expressed a desire to keep the Covid certificate in place. What does that mean for the relaxation of Covid measures?

Will the Covid certificate requirement remain in place anywhere? A illustration picture taken on September 14, 2021 in Lausanne shows a Swiss Covid certificate displayed on a smartphone and a fork and knife, as Switzerland decided to widely extend the obligation of health pass, facing a pandemic of Covid-19 which continues to fill the hospitals and the beds of intensive care and an insufficient rate of vaccination. - From September 13, 2021, it is necessary to show its Covid certificate to enter a restaurant or a bar, enter in an exhibition place, cinema's or a sporting event indoors. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
A Covid certificate is not necessary in Switzerland but may be required abroad. A illustration picture taken on September 14, 2021 in Lausanne shows a Swiss Covid certificate displayed on a smartphone and a fork and knife, as Switzerland decided to widely extend the obligation of health pass, facing a pandemic of Covid-19 which continues to fill the hospitals and the beds of intensive care and an insufficient rate of vaccination. - From September 13, 2021, it is necessary to show its Covid certificate to enter a restaurant or a bar, enter in an exhibition place, cinema's or a sporting event indoors. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

On Wednesday February 16th, Switzerland announced an imminent relaxation of almost all Covid measures. 

The decision was made after a two-week consultation with Switzerland’s cantons to decide the way forward out of the pandemic. 

The government announced that almost all Covid measures are being relaxed from Thursday, February 17th.

Covid certificates – which show someone has been vaccinated, recovered or in some cases has tested negative – will no longer be required in restaurants, cinemas or at events.

Masks will no longer be required in shops, supermarkets and the workplace, while they will continue to be required in public transport for the meantime. 

More information about the relaxed measures can be found at the following link. 

UPDATE: Switzerland to scrap Covid certificate and most mask rules

What does this mean at a cantonal level? 

While the federal government no longer requires Covid certificates, they can however be required by the cantons, under the new framework.

Swiss media has previously reported that several cantons want to keep the certificate in place.

READ MORE: Swiss cantons divided on ending Covid measures

During the consultation period, several cantons expressed reservations about completely removing the certificate requirement. 

The small, centralised and predominantly German-speaking cantons of central Switzerland — Zug, Schwyz, Uri, Nidwalden, Obwalden and Glarus —  were in the greatest hurry to return to pre-Covid rules.

These cantons argued that a gradual lifting would be too complicated and difficult for the population to understand.

The southwestern canton of Valais preferred this approach as well, but only “as long as the number of cases and hospitalisations continue to decrease by mid-February”. Otherwise, the lifting of the measures should be done in stages.

However, Geneva, Basel-City, Neuchâtel and Jura said it was too early to lift remaining measures.

“It is too risky at the moment, given the still high load in hospitals”, according to Basel-City, which added that “the effects of the first relaxations, such as teleworking and quarantines, are also not yet known”.

Will some cantons still require a Covid certificate?

Berset clarified on Wednesday that while some cantons had argued for this as part of the consultation process (i.e. on a federal level), they would most likely not unilaterally keep the certificate rule in place from February 17th onwards. 

Berset however said he would need to clarify the matter with cantonal representatives and did not rule out some cantons deciding to keep the certificate in place in some instances – for example in relation to nightclubs or large events.

As at Wednesday afternoon, no cantons have indicated they will keep the certificate requirement in place. 

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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