Swiss airlines and unions unite to demand return of air travel

In an unusual show of unity, Swiss airlines and aviation staff have come together to call for the government to ease restrictions on tourist travel.

A Swiss flight takes off at Geneva Airport
Geneva airport. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Representatives of the aviation lobby Aerosuisse have come together with staff unions to publish a three-point plan that they believe would kick start the travel industry after a year in which it has been more or less mothballed.

The plan would allow for travel to and from countries that have a similar rate of infection to Switzerland. It also foresees the creation of a digital passport for those who have been vaccinated, and a digital registration system for people who have tested negative for the virus.

“People should be able to travel between countries at similar risk of infection,” said Aerosuisse president Thomas Hurter in comments made to broadcaster SFR.

“It’s about the connectivity of Switzerland and about tourism. But it’s also about jobs and the freedom of travel in the future,” Hurter said.

Sandrine Nicolic-Fuss of the Kapers cabin crew union stressed that the majority of employees in the airline industry earn very little money. “These people want to work,” she said.

Two-thirds of employees in the aviation industry are currently on short-time work, said Daniel Lampart of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, adding that many are already struggling to make ends meet in normal times.

Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said he was willing to hold discussions about the plan but cautioned that the point when it could be implemented was still a long way off.

Swiss authorities have promised to put in place a coronavirus immunity passport – which entitles vaccinated people to various privileges – by summer. Meanwhile, Bern has indicated it will take part in the European Union’s Covid-19 passport project. 

SEE ALSO: Switzerland promises Covid-19 passport ‘by the summer’

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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?