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OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?
The government is ensuring there are enough hospital beds if another Covid wave hits this winter. Image by Silas Camargo Silão from Pixabay

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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EXPLAINED: Who should get a new Covid booster vaccine in Switzerland?

On Monday October 10th, Switzerland rolled out the new vaccines, which are adapted to better target Omicron and its sub-variants.

EXPLAINED: Who should get a new Covid booster vaccine in Switzerland?

In August, Switzerland’s drug regulator, Swissmedic, has approved a Moderna booster vaccine, which has demonstrated a “higher antibody concentrations against the Omicron variants” than the manufacturer’s original Covid vaccine.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

“The revised Covid-19 vaccine recommendations come into effect on Monday, October 10th, 2022”, The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), said in a statement on Thursday.

It added that this booster “can contribute to reducing the number of severe cases and thus prevent the healthcare system from becoming overstretched in autumn and winter”.

That is all the more important as the number of reported infections “is currently increasing significantly” FOPH said.

Latest data shows that nearly 50 percent more cases were detected in Switzerland in the past seven days than at the same time in the previous week.

Who, according to health officials, should get this second booster?

FOPH and the Federal Commission for Vaccination (FCV) “recommend the booster primarily for persons at especially high risk and health professionals. However, the vaccine is also recommended for anyone aged over 16 years”, FOPH said.

Specifically, people aged over 65 years and those with chronic health conditions should have the shot, as “this group is at the highest risk of contracting severe forms of Covid”.

The recommendation also applies to those between 16 and 64 years without risk factors, but who work in acute and long-term care.

There is also a general recommendation for all other people aged between 16 and 64 years without risk factors.

“For them, getting a booster is sensible if they wish to reduce the risk of infection or a rare, severe form of the disease. Unlike at the start of the pandemic, however, people without risk factors are at low risk of contracting severe disease this autumn”, FOPH said.

Who should not get ‘boosted’?

Even though in January 2022, Switzerland approved Covid vaccines for youngsters from the age of five, the new one “is not recommended for children and adolescents aged between five and 15 years, as their risk of a severe form of COVID-19 is very low », FOPH said.

How is the new vaccine different from the previous one?

The previous vaccine, which has been administered in Switzerland since its rollout in January 2022,  was effective against early strains, like Alpha and Delta, offering no immunity against Omicron or its sub-variants, which are currently responsible for all the coronavirus infections detected in Switzerland.

“Compared to the original vaccine, trials have shown that this [vaccine] produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, Swissmedic said, adding that the new vaccine remains as effective as its predecessor against the original Covid viruses.

The new vaccine is called ‘dual-strain’ precisely because it tackles both the original Covid virus and the newer Omicron variant.

Can this second booster protect you from catching Covid this autumn / winter?

Neither Moderna nor health officials give you this guarantee.

However, it can protect you from having a severe form of the disease — serious enough to end up in the hospital.

“A booster at least temporarily improves the individual protection against severe symptoms”, FOPH said, which is the reason why it is primarily recommended for people whose immunity systems are weakened, either by age or chronic diseases.

Is this new vaccine safe and what side effects can you expect?

Before approving this vaccine for the Swiss market, Swissmedic conducted “a careful review” of available data.

“They showed that the vaccine meets the safety, efficacy and quality requirements”, the agency said.

As for side effects, they are expected to be similar to those following administration of the second dose and the first the booster of the original vaccine: fever, muscle pains, and headaches.

Boosters will be free of charge to all residents of Switzerland. They are administered by cantons and appointments can be booked online through the cantonal sites.

READ MORE: Switzerland to start dual-strain Covid boosters in October