Three more Swiss cantons tighten coronavirus rules as infections increase

Faced with a significant increase of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations, the Swiss cantons of Jura, Fribourg and Neuchâtel are implementing new restrictions starting on October 23rd.

Three more Swiss cantons tighten coronavirus rules as infections increase
Masks are now mandated in all public spaces in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

In its press release on Friday, cantonal authorities announced that Jura is now “among the most critical regions” in Europe.

As of Friday morning 50 coronavirus patients are hospitalised in the canton, up from 11 one week ago.

Meetings, gatherings or demonstrations of more than 15 people, including children, will now be prohibited. Restaurants, cafés and bars must close at 10pm.

In these establishments, a maximum of four people can be seated at the same table, with the exception of people living in the same household. Late night bars and clubs must remain closed.

Team and contact sports are banned with the exception of professional private practice and individual training. Fitness centres must remain closed. Ski camps, sports camps, and study trips are suspended.

Wearing a mask is compulsory at all times in the workplace, both in public and private companies. It is also mandatory for students in the perimeter of secondary and post-compulsory schools when they are not seated in class.

In Fribourg, gatherings of more than 10 people in public and private spaces will be banned, the Council of State said in a statement on Friday. This ban particularly applies to events such as political, cultural and civil demonstrations.

Nightclubs, cabarets casino, gaming rooms, billiards, bowling, and other entertainment facilities will be closed. All other establishments must close at 11pm and can only accommodate groups of four people per table, unless the customers live in the same household.

Neuchâtel raised its alert level to red on Friday, meaning that the outbreaks of Covid-19 are spreading at an alarming rate. 

Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited in public and private spaces, with the exception of funerals.

Public establishments must close by 11 pm at the latest.

In restaurants, the number of people is limited to a maximum of four per table,  with the exception of people living in the same household. Gyms, wellness centres, swimming pools and bowling alleys are closed.

READ MORE: Valais implements 'Switzerland's strictest' lockdown measures as infection rates 

The new restrictions in the three cantons are in addition to the national ones implemented by the Federal Council on October 19th in response to Switzerland’s skyrocketing infection rate. 

They include mask requirement in all indoor public spaces, capping public gatherings at 15 people, and private events at 100. 

However, if the numbers get out of hand, authorities will “consider more drastic measures”, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga warned.

This could mean a ‘mini lockdown’, if the infection curve does not flatten out soon, Sommaruga said.

In addition to nationwide measures, each canton can implement its own stricter rules, above and beyond those mandated by the federal government, Sommaruga pointed out.

For instance, canton Bern announced  the ban on events involving more than 1,000 people, even though such gatherings are currently authorised, under stringent conditions, in the rest of the country. 

And Valais, where the infection rate has soared, mandated new measures from October 22nd. 

They include the closure of bars, nightclubs, brothels, cinemas, theatres, museums, libraries, public swimming pools, and bowling alleys.



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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.