Swiss retail demands end to mask wearing ‘by start of August’

The Swiss Retail Federation is pushing for the mask-wearing requirement to be lifted in shops, while nightclub owners want an end to the Covid certificate requirement in autumn.

Swiss retail demands end to mask wearing 'by start of August'
A woman wears a mask while shopping for groceries. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/KEYSTONE | Urs Flueeler

According to the retail trade body, once everyone in Switzerland has been offered a Covid vaccine appointment, there will no longer any justification to keep restrictions such as mask-wearing in place.

This could happen within a month, the organisation believes. 

“The mask-wearing requirement must be scrapped by the end of July or start of August,” said SRF director Dagmar Jenni.

Speaking to SonntagsZeitung on Sunday, Jenni said that the obligation to wear masks in shops could no longer be considered proportionate to the risk of catching Covid. 

According to Switzerland’s Covid laws, regulations designed to protect the population must “have the least and shortest possible restrictive effect on social and economic life,” she explained.

After that, according to Jenni, the obligation to wear a mask would “come across as a chicane in the shops, both for employees and customers”.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: What are the rules for wearing masks in Switzerland?

It is significantly lower than in offices, she added.

Clubs ‘need normalisation’ 

Retail is not the only industry clamouring for an end to Covid restrictions in Switzlerland.

Nightclub and bar owners are also keen to see an end to some of the government’s measures – in particular the obligation for customers to present Covid certificates in order to be allowed in.

READ ALSO: EU agrees to recognise Switzerland’s vaccination certificate

The Club and Bar Commission, the trade association for club operators, told SonntagsZeitung that while the certificate rule is fine at present, it will have to be removed once a greater proportion of the Swiss population is vaccination. 

“As vaccination progresses, we also need normalisation,” said spokesperson Alexander Bücheli. “The vaccination campaign will hopefully be so advanced by the end of August or the beginning of September that the club’s certificate requirement can be lifted again. “

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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.