The Swiss government said on Wednesday (Feb 16) that practically all of Switzerland’s Covid restrictions are lifted starting midnight, after worries of a spike in illnesses caused by the Omicron strain overloading the health-care system faded.
After the revisions, which remove nearly two years of restrictions on public life, the administration said only the obligation to wear masks on public transportation and when visiting healthcare institutions will remain in effect temporarily.
“The light on the horizon is very visible,” President Ignazio Cassis told a news conference in Bern, although he added the government was ready to reimpose curbs if needed.
“The virus is there. We are learning how to live with the virus,” he said.
The five-day mandatory isolation of persons who have returned a positive Covid test result will continue until the end of March.
However, businesses, restaurants, and cultural institutions will be open to the public, according to the administration, which is moving forward with steps it announced two weeks ago.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Casimir Platzer, director of the Gastrosuisse catering industry lobby, referring to the elimination of the need that guests present a special COVID-19 certificate to access pubs and restaurants.
According to authorities, more than 90% of Switzerland’s 8.6 million individuals have obtained protection from the virus, having recovered from COVID-19 or been vaccinated.
Despite tens of thousands of new illnesses being reported every day, the health-care system has held up admirably, and intensive-care unit occupancy has decreased.
Since the beginning of the crisis, more than 2.6 million illnesses have been recorded in Switzerland and neighboring Liechtenstein. The illness has claimed the lives of around 12,600 people.
“The acute phase is over,” said Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset, adding that Switzerland will keep its vaccine capacity to be safe.
Covid restrictions lifted in Germany and Austria as situation improves
Germany’s authorities said on Wednesday that most of the country’s coronavirus limitations will be lifted by March 20, a decision that coincided with Austria and Switzerland’s decision to lift many of their own restrictions earlier.
Germany’s COVID-19 infection rate is begun to decline, according to official numbers. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country’s 16 state governors have backed a three-step strategy.
“The peak has now probably been reached,” Scholz said.
The relaxation will begin with the repeal of laws prohibiting those without proof of vaccination or recovery from entering non-essential stores, as well as the loosening of restrictions on private meetings of vaccinated people.
Beginning March 4, the standards for entering restaurants and bars will be reduced, with a negative test sufficing instead of proof of vaccination or recovery plus a test or a booster shot, as is the case in many other places.
The remaining “far-reaching” Covid restrictions will be lifted on March 20, according to Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey.
Mask-wearing and distance rules, however, will remain in force, according to Scholz.
Infections due by the extremely infectious omicron variety reached a peak in Germany later than in other European nations.
Officials said the limits, which have been in place since December, are to blame.
However, other nations, such as Denmark, have moved more quickly to ease restrictions, and there have been mounting calls for Germany to follow suit.
Austria stated earlier Wednesday that the majority of its Covid restrictions will be lifted on March 5, while Switzerland said the majority of its Covid restrictions will be lifted this week.
The infection rate in Germany has been slightly lower for many days, according to Germany’s national disease control center, albeit it is still well above pre-omicron levels.
The likelihood of a vaccination requirement for all adults appears to be fading as Germany works toward loosening its newest limits.
Scholz expressed support for such a mandate just before taking office as chancellor in December, but his three-party coalition is split on the subject, so he delegated the task to parliament.
At this time, it’s unclear when legislators will vote on legislation or whether any form of mandate would get a majority.
Even already-passed law requiring health-care employees to provide proof of vaccination or recovery by the middle of March has run into problems, despite Germany’s top court’s refusal to temporarily halt its implementation last week.
Switzerland became the latest European country to relax coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, removing the necessity for arriving travelers to undergo health tests and the requirement for COVID-19 credentials to visit numerous public places.
Masks and COVID-19 immunization cards will no longer be necessary to enter stores, restaurants, cultural institutions, and other public settings and activities, according to the Swiss Federal Council, which consists of seven members.
Workplace masking requirements and a work-from-home advice will be phased out, as will capacity limitations on large-scale meetings.
The only conditions that will remain are an order to isolate anyone who tests positive and the necessity to wear a mask on public transit and in health-care facilities.
The administration stated, “The epidemiological situation continues to develop positively.”
“Thanks to the high level of immunity among the population, it is unlikely that the health care system will be overburdened despite the continued high level of virus circulation.”
More than 21,000 new COVID-19 cases and 10 new deaths were recorded daily by health officials in the 8.5 million-strong country.
Since late January, when a 7-day average of more than 36,000 cases per day was recorded, the trend has slowly declined.
Incoming travelers will not be asked to provide proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test, nor will they be forced to fill out an admission form.
The measures will also signal the end of the government’s economic assistance to businesses affected by the pandemic.
The Austrian government said on Wednesday that the country’s primary Covid restrictions will be lifted on March 5, however masks will still be required in some areas.
At a news conference in Vienna, Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced the decision, emphasizing that the pandemic is not yet finished, but that the circumstances permits Austria to open up gradually.
Beginning Saturday, evidence of vaccination or recent recovery will no longer be necessary to attend events, go to restaurants, pubs, or hairdressers, among other things.
Proof of a negative test will suffice.
Most Covid restrictions will be lifted on March 5, including the reopening of nightclubs and the lifting of limits on restaurant and bar hours.
According to Nehammer, the necessity to wear protective FFP2 masks will stay in force when it is important to protect the most vulnerable, such as in public transportation, critical businesses, and pharmacies.
Minister of Health Wolfgang Mueckstein said he can’t guarantee that stricter measures won’t be needed in the future.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of new coronavirus infections declined by 19% in the past week while the number of deaths remained steady.
In its weekly update on the pandemic, the UN health agency said late Tuesday that little over 16 million new COVID-19 infections were registered globally last week, with nearly 75,000 fatalities.
The Western Pacific was the only area to record an increase in new weekly cases, a 19% increase; Southeast Asia reported a 37% decline, the largest drop globally.
The Middle East had a 38% increase in fatalities, while the Western Pacific saw a one-third increase.
Russia recorded the highest number of new COVID-19 cases.
Cases in the region and elsewhere in Eastern Europe have more than quadrupled in recent weeks, thanks to an outbreak of the very contagious omicron form.
All other coronavirus varieties, including alpha, beta, and delta, are declining globally as omicron crowds them out, according to the WHO.
More than 98 percent of the more than 400,000 COVID-19 viral sequences uploaded to the world’s largest virus library in the previous week were omicron.
According to the WHO, the BA.2 strain of omicron is “steadily increasing,” with cases reported in South Africa, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and other nations.
However, health experts have noticed that omicron produces milder illness than prior COVID-19 variations, and that hospitalization and mortality rates have not increased much in nations with high vaccination rates, despite omicron’s expansion.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director, stated last week that there was “light at the end of the tunnel” for the continent and that, despite poor vaccination rates, Africa was moving out of the acute pandemic phase of COVID-19.
This confidence contrasts dramatically with warnings from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has stated repeatedly that the pandemic is not ended and that it is premature for nations to believe that the end is near.