Coronavirus: Federal Council introduces tighter measures

Bern, 17.12.2021 - Stricter measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus will apply throughout Switzerland from Monday, 20 December. Only people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to go inside restaurants, cultural, sporting and leisure venues and attend indoor events (2G). The move is intended to reduce the risk of unimmunised people from becoming infected as they are also more likely to pass on the virus and become seriously ill. To provide additional protection, masks must also be worn in these settings and food and drink may only be consumed while seated. In settings where masks cannot be worn, such as brass band practice, or where it is not possible to eat or drink while seated, such as at bars and discos, admission will be limited to vaccinated or recovered persons who also present a negative test result (2G+). People who within the last four months have been fully vaccinated, received a booster or recovered from COVID-19 do not have to take a further test. A requirement to work from home has been re-introduced. Private gatherings are limited to 10 people if one person from the age of 16 is present who is unvaccinated or has not previously had COVID-19. These are the decisions taken by the Federal Council at its meeting on 17 December. The Federal Council also settled the question of how test costs are to be covered and the procurement of additional vaccine doses.

The epidemiological situation is extremely worrying; the number of hospital admissions continues to rise and the occupancy of intensive care units (ICUs) is very high in some regions. These patients are mainly unvaccinated middle-aged and older persons. On 13 December, the critical
threshold of 300 COVID-19 patients in ICUs throughout Switzerland was exceeded for the first time. Above this level, optimal care is no longer possible for all patients because treatment for other illnesses has to be postponed or delayed. According to current estimates, ICU occupancy is expected to reach 350 to 400 COVID-19 patients by the end of the year.

A further factor is the number of infections with the Omicron variant, which is expected to rise significantly in the run-up to Christmas. According to initial findings, the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant. The protection afforded by vaccination or having previously had COVID-19 is likely to be significantly lower than with the Delta variant. However, protection is substantially better if the vaccine
or a booster has been recently administered. If the level of protection through vaccination is low, the number of infections will also increase among the immunised population. It is still unclear how severe the course of the disease is after infection with the Omicron variant and how well those who have been vaccinated are protected against severe disease. If the number of people experiencing severe symptoms is high, this will place additional pressure on the already overstretched healthcare system within a very short time, meaning that capacity limits will be exceeded.

Further-reaching measures
After consulting the cantons, the relevant parliamentary committees, the social partners and associations directly concerned, the Federal Council has decided to introduce further-reaching measures. These will remain in force until 24 January 2022. Some of these also concern vaccinated and recovered persons as the Omicron variant is highly transmissible. The aim is to protect hospitals from becoming even more
overstretched and ensure that intensive care is available to all those who need it.

'2G' with mask and seating requirement
In indoor settings where the '3G' rule has so far applied (admission only for persons who have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative), the '2G' rule will now come into effect (admission only for vaccinated or recovered persons). This concerns restaurants, cultural, sporting and leisure venues and events. The new rule reduces the risk of unimmunised people becoming infected as they are also more likely to pass on the virus and become seriously ill. A mask requirement still applies in these settings, as does a seating requirement when consuming food or drink. The '3G' rule still applies for outdoors events with over 300 people.

2G+ for clubs and discos and activities where masks are not practicable
In settings where it is not possible to wear a mask or apply a seating requirement, admission will be limited to vaccinated or recovered persons, who must also present a negative test result (2G+). This rule applies to bars and discos, but also to amateur sporting and cultural activities where masks cannot be worn, such as brass band practice. It does not apply to young people under the age of 16. The additional test requirement ensures that people who are infectious are not able to attend events where there is no mask or seating requirement. This rule was further modified following the consultation: people who within the last four months have been fully vaccinated, received a booster or recovered from COVID-19 do not have to take a further test. Businesses and events subject to the '2G' rule may voluntarily choose to adopt the '2G+' rule and thus forgo the mask and seating requirements.

Rules for private indoor gatherings
Experience has shown that the risk of infection in private settings is considerable. For this reason, the Federal Council has decided to impose restrictions on unimmunised persons at private indoor gatherings. If a person from the age of 16 is present who has not been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, no more than 10 people are allowed to meet. Children are included in that number. The upper limit for indoor
gatherings is 30 if everyone from the age of 16 is vaccinated or has recovered from COVID-19. The limit for outdoor gatherings is still 50.

Re-introduction of requirement to work from home
In order to minimise contact, the Federal Council is re-introducing a requirement to work from home. If it is necessary for people to work on site, masks must be worn if there is more than one person in the same room.

Mask requirement from upper secondary level
In addition to routine testing, a mask requirement is a key measure in reducing virus circulation in schools. At upper secondary level, masks will be mandatory. The Federal Council strongly urges the cantons to introduce a mask requirement at lower levels as well. Many cantons have already done so. The Federal Council also recommends that the cantons carry out routine testing in schools in order to quickly break chains of infection.

Recommendation to postpone elective medical procedures
The Federal Council has decided not to introduce distance learning as the holidays are about to begin. At tertiary level, the '3G' rule will apply for certain classes and exams; the normal rules for events will apply in the area of continuing education.

The Federal Council also strongly recommends that the cantons postpone non-urgent procedures in hospitals to relieve the burden on healthcare staff. Should the situation deteriorate rapidly over the coming days and weeks, the Federal Council is in a position to respond quickly.

Cost of tests to obtain a certificate to be covered
The Federal Council has also decided to again cover the costs of certain COVID-19 tests leading to a COVID certificate. In so doing, it is implementing a decision by Parliament on the COVID-19 Act. Rapid antigen tests and saliva PCR pool tests will be covered. Self-tests, individual
PCR tests and antibody tests will not be covered, although individual PCR tests will continue to be free of charge for persons who show symptoms, are close contacts or were part of a positive test pool. The new rules governing test costs will apply from Saturday, 18 December. From 17 January 2022, all those taking part in repetitive tests must also be able to obtain a test certificate.

Only one test on entry for persons who are vaccinated or recovered
After consulting the cantons, the Federal Council has also adapted the testing regime for entering the country, applicable from Monday, 20 December. In addition to PCR tests taken within the previous 72 hours, rapid antigen tests taken within the previous 24 hours will also be
accepted for entering Switzerland. The requirement to take a second test 4 to 7 days after entering the country will be waived for persons who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines: Supply assured for next year
At its meeting, the Federal Council also discussed the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. It is ordering 7 million doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines for the second half of 2022. It had already secured 7 million doses of each for the first half of the year. This means that a total of around 34 million vaccine doses will be available in 2022. There is therefore a sufficient supply of vaccines for all those wishing to
be vaccinated in 2022. This also applies should the pandemic be driven by an immune-evasive variant and if additional doses have to be administered. Under the current agreements, Switzerland always receives the latest available vaccine variant from the respective manufacturer, provided it has been approved by Swissmedic.

From the outset, Switzerland has been committed to ensuring that as many people as possible worldwide have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines as part of the global pandemic response. On 30 June, the Federal Council decided to donate 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. A possible transfer of further doses to the COVAX initiative will be considered at a later date.

Strategy to promote vaccine research, development and production
The Federal Council also held a discussion on how to promote Switzerland's research, development and production of vaccines in the longer term. The aim is for Switzerland to further expand its strong position as a production location and player in research and development for key
technologies. At the same time, international cooperation along the entire vaccine value chain is to be strengthened. The FDHA and the EAER will submit a proposal to the Federal Council by the end of 2022 on how to implement the strategic measures.

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