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Can Switzerland’s ski season withstand Omicron surge?

As the highly contagious variant spreads rapidly through Switzerland, the question is whether skiing is still a safe activity from an epidemiological point of view and whether further rules could curtail winter sports.

Skiing equipment laid out on wood
So far, Omicron has not impacted the pleasure of skiing in the Swiss Alps. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini /AFP

There is abundant snow in Swiss mountains at the moment, beckoning skiers from far and near to hit the slopes.

However, latest data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) shows that in Valais and Graubünden, cantons where most ski resorts are located, contagion rates are among the highest in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Covid hotspots: ‘More hospitalisations’ predicted for Switzerland’s as cases increase

But unlike neighbouring Austria, where some tourism officials are calling for temporary closure of certain ski areas, there are no such plans in Switzerland at the moment

And if you are coming to ski from abroad, you will find Switzerland’s entry rules slightly relaxed, as the government scrapped the travel quarantine in favour of tests upon entry.

But is it safe to ski with Omicron spreading like wildfire?

One good thing about skiing and winter sports in general is that it’s an outdoor activity, and while the risk of catching Omicron — or any other virus for that matter — isn’t zero, it is significantly lower than when people gather in closed spaces, epidemiologists say.

The real risk lies in indoor and unventilated areas, and Switzerland has measures in place for that. One is that closed cable cars (as opposed to open-air chair lifts) must have capacity restrictions, which means large gondolas accommodating more than 25 people will have their capacity reduced to 70 percent to allow people to keep as much distance as possible.

In terms of eating out and entertainment, Switzerland has implemented the 2G and 2G-Plus rules for all indoor venues like bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms, cinemas, etc. You can read about what these regulations entail here:

2G: Switzerland targets unvaccinated with new Covid measures

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s 2G-Plus rule?

What if you catch Covid while in a ski resort?

If Switzerland is not your home, you will have to isolate in your hotel or rented accommodation.

On Wednesday, the Federal Council proposed shortening the duration of quarantine period for infected people and their close companions to five days from the current 10 and seven, respectively. The proposed measure in now under consultation by cantons until January 17th.

Is Switzerland set to implement further rules for ski areas?

On January 5th, the government decided against new measures.

It stated, however, that “stricter measures (including closings) are ready” if the situation continues to deteriorate.

According to Health Minister Alain Berset, the crucial metric is not how many people are contracting the virus, but how many of those infected fall seriously ill and need to be hospitalised.

“The decisive factor is how many Omicron infected people need intensive care”,  he said

At the moment, ICUs are not overcrowded, but experts say that is likely to change soon, as Switzerland is expected to reach the peak of the Omicron wave within one to three weeks.

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Switzerland proposes travellers pay for Covid boosters

Under a new plan put forth by the Swiss government, anyone who needs a booster shot for travel abroad should pay for it out of pocket.

Switzerland proposes travellers pay for Covid boosters

While Covid shots were previously free for everyone in Switzerland, with the Swiss government picking up the tab, the country has been reluctant to issue a recommendation for a second booster.

As The Local reported on Monday, this means that many people’s most recent shot will soon be more than nine months ago, which is the date at which many Covid passes expire. 

READ MORE: What will Switzerland do about the ‘millions’ of expiring Covid certificates?

Although evidence of vaccination is not required domestically in Switzerland any more, it may pose issues in travel. 

Since many countries still require a vaccination certificate for entry, and as the second round of boosters is not yet available in Switzerland, this means that a large number of people may not be able to travel abroad.

Swiss health authorities: Travellers should pay for Covid boosters themselves

According to newest recommendations of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), people travelling abroad who need second booster doses must pay for the shots themselves.

As the fourth vaccine dose is currently recommended only for people with a severely weakened immune system, everyone outside of this group will be charged as yet undefined fee.

The proposal was sent to the cantons for consultation until June 1st.

If agreed on, the Federal Council will adjust the Epidemics Ordinance accordingly on June 10th.