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What to expect if you’re traveling in Switzerland over Easter

For the first time in over two years, Easter will be celebrated as it had been before Covid struck — with no masks or other restrictions. This is what you should expect if you are travelling to or from Switzerland from Friday onward.

What to expect if you’re traveling in Switzerland over Easter
For the first time in two years, Switzerland will enjoy a rule-free Easter. George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com / Pexels

You wouldn’t necessarily know it’s springtime when you look out the window, but Easter is just around the corner, even if the weather took a turn for the worse.  

And this year, at long last, you can celebrate this holiday in Switzerland as though it is 2019 all over again.

On April 1st, all Covid rules that had been put into place over the last two years were scrapped.

READ MORE: Switzerland to remove all Covid measures on Friday

Well, almost all rules

One that remains intact relates to travel

While tourists from the EU (as well as Swiss nationals and permanent residents returning to Switzerland from abroad) can enter the country without any further pandemic-related measures, entry restrictions for third-country nationals remain in force unchanged.

This means only fully vaccinated travellers or those who recovered from Covid can come to Switzerland from outside Europe.

The reason is because Switzerland doesn’t have its own entry rules but adheres to those in force in the Schengen area.

“As a Schengen-associated country, Switzerland therefore follows the recommendations of the EU and acts in association with the other Schengen states”, Anne Césard, a spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) told The Local on Thursday. 

You can check current travel regulations for your country here.

Covid? What Covid?

Even though the pandemic may not be forgotten anytime soon, the long-awaited transition back to normality is a welcome last step of the relaxation process that began on February 17th.

If you arrive in Switzerland on or after April 1st, it will be like Covid never happened.

This is what you can expect:

No Covid certificate

The certificate is no longer compulsory for accessing restaurants, bars, cultural activities, sports facilities, or any other indoor venues.

However, you may still need it to return to your own country.

No masks, anywhere

The obligation to wear masks in shops, on public transport, and all other indoor venues, has been dropped.

And while it is no longer mandatory in health establishments, individual healthcare facilities like hospitals or elderly care homes can require that staff and visitors wear a mask on their premises to protect vulnerable people.

This means you can go pretty much everywhere in Switzerland without a mask now.
 
No limit on private gatherings

Different rules were in place at different times during the pandemic in regards to the number of people allowed to get together.
But now there is no limit on how many people are authorised together in a group .
 
No isolation for infected individuals

Whether this is a sound decision or not is debatable. But as things stand, people who test positive to coronavirus are no longer required to isolate for five days — or at all, for that matter.

However, just because something is allowed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious, for your sake and others’.

If you happen to get infected while in Switzerland, you should avoid transmitting the virus to others. In case you don’t want to stay indoors, you should at least wear a mask when out and about. No obligation — just common sense and personal responsibility.

READ MORE: Reader question: Do I have to stay home if I catch Covid in Switzerland after April 1st?

Does it all mean Covid pandemic is finished in Switzerland from April 1st?

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said on Wednesday that “we are in a good situation… the bad phase of the crisis is over”.

Make of it what you will — and most people certainly want to believe this is true — but a number epidemiologists have said coronavirus is still circulating among the population and will continue to do so.

The latest strain, Omicron, and its sub-variant, the BA.2, are highly contagious but their symptoms are mild in most people.

 It is a view of most health experts that we should expect the resurgence and possibly new variants in the fall and throughout winter months, as had been the case in previous waves.

For now, however, life is back to normal, and Easter in Switzerland looks to be merry and bright (sorry, wrong holiday).

This is what you should know if you are travelling into or out of Switzerland

To state it simply and succinctly: expect crowds!

If you travel by air, you will find long queues and longer-than-average wait times. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 70,000 passengers are expected at Zurich airport on each of these days, and 50,000 are predicted to pass through Geneva.  

More people are also on the motorways.

Around the Gothard tunnel, “traffic should intensify strongly on Thursday”, according to motoring organisation Touring Club Suisse (TCS), which says bottlenecks should start early in the morning on the northern slope of the Alps.

The Federal Roads Office (ASTRA) also warns that Easter travellers “should expect to wait in queues, especially at the northern portal of the Gotthard road tunnel”

These routes will experience particularly heavy traffic and bottlenecks, according to ASTRA:

  • Spiez – Kandersteg
  • Gampel – Goppenstein
  • Brunnen – Flüelen
  • Raron – Brig 
  • Bellinzona – Locarno
  • Sections of various main roads in the Bernese Oberland, Graubünden and the Valais side valleys.

ASTRA published a map showing where most bottlenecks are expected.

Image: ASTRA

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REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors.

EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks as long as they can prove residency in an EU country however they will still be caught up in any delays at passport control if the new system as many fear, causes longer processing times.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 countries to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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