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Covid-19: Most Swiss cantons shorten their quarantine requirements

Most Swiss cantons have cut the quarantne obligation for 'contact' persons from 10 to seven days.

Some cantons have shortened their quarantines to seven days. Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash
Some cantons have shortened their quarantines to seven days. Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Though the Federal Council has scrapped the travel quarantine in December in favour of tests, the 10-day requirement remained in place for ‘contact’ persons — those who either live with an infected person or were in close contact with them.

However, as at January 5th, all but three cantons are allowing contact persons to end the quarantine after seven days. Solothurn will enforce the rule on January 10th. Only Graubünden and Aargau have not yet announced any changes in quarantine requirements.

Note that people who have been tested positive must continue to isolate for 10 days.

Exempted from the quarantine are people who were vaccinated or recovered from coronavirus within the past four months, and have no symptoms of Covid.

Nevertheless, health authorities recommend that they get tested four to seven days after contact, wear a mask, and avoiding public places.

There have been calls to lift the quarantine after the fifth day in confinement, as is currently the case in the United States, but Switzerland is not likely to follow this example for the time being.

READ MORE: Will Switzerland shorten Covid quarantine to five days?

The reason for shortening the quarantone is primarily economic, as business circles, along with the government itself, fear the collapse of the country’s essential infrastructure if an increasing number of people is confined.

For instance, Swiss Federal Railways and Swiss Post are warning that quarantines of their employees could seriously impact their services.

Figures from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) show that as at January 4th, 101,000 people were quarantined in Switzerland, a number that is likely to increase in the next days.

From the health perspective, seven-day quarantines would not worsen the epidemiological situation, experts say.

“In view of the current package of measures with vaccination and booster, a long quarantine period does not help much epidemiologically”, according to Covid-19 Task Force member Marcel Tanner.

And Didier Trono, head of the virology laboratory at the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL) noted in an interview with public broadcaster RTS on Sunday that numerous long quarantines “risk paralysing our society.”

He added that shorter quarantines “make sense” and don’t imply that “we are giving up the fight against the pandemic”.

READ MORE: Covid hotspots: Why Switzerland’s situation is ‘extremely unfavourable’

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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.