The restrictions that have been in place since January 18th, including the closure of bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses, along with the five-person limit on public and private gatherings and obligation to work from home whenever possible, were supposed to be lifted on February 28th.
Health Minister Alain Berset initially indicated that restrictions would not only be extended, but that a range of tighter measures was also being considered to contain the spread of the more contagious forms of mutated viruses.
But on Friday Berset indicated that the Federal Council hadn’t ruled out a relaxation of at least some of the existing measures, although he didn’t specify which ones were going to be eased.
It is, however, likely that the measures will be lifted gradually over time rather than all at once.
The Federal Council will announce its decision on February 17th.
In the meantime, Economiesuisse, an umbrella organisation for Switzerland’s businesses, has published its four-step plan for ending the shutdown.
“Instead of fighting the pandemic with strict and sometimes arbitrary bans, the Federal Council should now make its decisions based on the vaccination coverage of the population”, the organisation said.
What are the four steps ?
The first step of this plan, to go into effect on March 1st, provides for the end of the limit of five people for gatherings in public spaces, in particular for “skating, cycling, or hiking”.
Restaurants should be allowed to reopen their outdoor spaces. Stores selling non-essential products must also be able to resume their activities and working from home should no longer be compulsory but recommended.
All these restrictions should be lifted “while increasing tracing capabilities and maintaining effective contact tracing at all times”, Economiesuisse said.
The second phase would begin when all the people in the high-risk category are vaccinated.
At this point, restaurants, as well as entertainment and recreational venues “must be able to re-open with appropriate protection concepts. All sporting activities and outdoor gatherings must also again be possible without restriction ”.
During this phase, intensive screening should be carried out to identify asymptomatic people at an early stage. “Economiesuisse relies on individual responsibility so that tests are carried out in schools, businesses and social institutions and that the population continues to be tested quickly in the event of suspicion”.
During the third phase, “anyone who wishes can be vaccinated and the risk of hospital overloading becomes unlikely.” The government “will no longer be able to impose restrictions on economic and personal freedoms on vaccinated persons”.
This would imply that large gatherings of people at concerts, sports events, and nightclubs should become possible.
Finally, during the fourth phase, as at least 60 percent of Switzerland’s population will develop collective immunity, “all remaining restrictions must be lifted: companies no longer have to implement protection plans and the wearing of masks should no longer be mandatory”.
However, screening should continue in order to identify possible mutations and avoid another outbreak. “Likewise, it must be possible to quickly reactivate extensive contact tracing capabilities and effective vaccines must be available at all times ”.
Are there any other scenarios being floated around for the lifting of restrictions?
Switzerland’s No Covid group is pushing for a tighter set of rules.
This particular strategy is based on “rigorous containment and rigorous testing”.
Under the plan, shutdowns are to be applied regionally – whether that be in municipalities, cities or cantons – and would only be lifted where the infection rate is 10 new infections over 14 days per 100,000 residents.
Who besides Economiesuisse supports the lifting of restrictions from March 1st?
Cantonal authorities, along with many politicians, are stepping up pressure on the Federal Council to end the shutdown.
Among them are the president of the Valais Council of State Christophe Darbellay, as well as health ministers of Geneva, Zug, Fribourg, and Neuchâtel.
Some proponents of the re-opening are arguing that prolonged shutdown is not only bad for the economy, but also takes its toll on the people’s mental health.
“We have to take into account what is happening from the morale point of view”, said Laurent Kurth, Neuchâtel deputy in charge of health.
This is confirmed by a study showing that almost one in five people in Switzerland suffer from severe depression as a result of the pandemic. The percentage of people reporting stress spikes was 11 percent during the containment in April, and rose to nearly 20 percent percent during the second wave in November.
The “Swiss Corona Stress Study” reveals that the phenomenon is more marked among young people. Some 29 percent of 14-24 year olds and 21 percent of 25-34 year olds report severe depressive symptoms. By contrast, among those over 65, only 6 percent show symptoms of depression.
Along the linguistic regions, 22 percent of French speakers report severe depressive symptoms, compared with 16.9 percent of Swiss-Germans, and 16.1 percent of Ticino residents.