New COVID proposals divide Swiss cantons
On January 12, the Federal Council submitted its plans for new COVID restrictions in Switzerland, including extended mask requirements and voluntary quarantine periods. The consultation between January 12 and the expected announcement on Wednesday has allowed each Swiss canton to comment on the measures, with some saying they have concerns about certain aspects of the proposals.
Changes to COVID rules in Switzerland expected
In a statement given on January 12, 2022, the Federal Council submitted several COVID-related proposals to the cantons for official consultation. This is in response to a “tense situation” in Swiss hospitals and a continuing burden on the rest of the healthcare system.
Along with immediate decisions like reducing the duration of quarantine to five days for some cases, there were also new proposals to curb the spread of COVID-19. With an official announcement expected on Wednesday, here is what the new proposals are and how each Swiss canton has reacted to the new ideas:
Swiss COVID-19 rules to be extended
One of the key aspects of the new proposal is the Swiss government’s desire to extend the validity of current COVID rules. The original proposals made in December were time-limited to January 24, but in light of the current situation, the Federal Council hopes to extend this to the end of March.
While the majority of cantons do support an extension, many want the restrictions to expire earlier. Canton Bern, Schwyz, Zug, Basel Land, both Appenzells, Thurgau, St. Gallen, Geneva and Vaud only want the measures to be extended until the end of February. Other cantons, like Zurich, Aargau and Basel Stadt, have agreed to the March timeline.
Some cantons also want to curtail the order to “work from home.” Currently, all workers must do their jobs from home unless unable to do so. Canton Bern has said it wants to lift the “home office requirement” immediately, with Zurich asking for a relaxation before the end of March if the situation allows.
Reducing the validity of COVID certificates in line with the EU
Another new policy proposed by the government is to reduce the amount of time a COVID certificate is valid for those who are fully vaccinated or recovered. The move is to make sure Switzerland is in line with the EU, which has reduced the validity period from 365 days to 270.
According to 20 minuten, the majority of cantons are in favour of the move, as close compliance with the EU is seen as important, particularly in cantons near the border. Graubunden is the only canton so far to announce that is against the change.
Restricted teaching and expanding mask requirements
As part of the new proposals, the Federal Council has put forward the idea of banning face-to-face teaching at universities and other forms of higher education. 20 minuten say the idea has been rejected by all cantons who have commented on the matter, as face-to-face teaching is “a central element of education.”
Other controversial proposals include extending the mask mandate to include all children and young people above the age of eight, banning eating and drinking on public transport, and extending the mask requirement to bus stops and train stations.
So far, only Bern has come out in favour of reducing the age limit for the mask requirement, although Solothurn has said it remains a possibility. Zurich, Basel Land, Graubunden, Vaud, Aargau and Zug have announced their opposition to the change.
Move to voluntary quarantine debated among Swiss cantons
As part of the immediate changes announced on January 12, the Federal Council reduced the duration of isolation and quarantine periods to five days for fully vaccinated or recovered people, and changed the rules for close contacts. Now, the Federal Council has asked each Swiss canton whether they would support “voluntary quarantine and isolation” - lifting mandatory quarantine altogether.
Bern has expressed its support for the move, and Aargau says it would be in favour of voluntary quarantine rules. The eastern cantons and Solothurn are against the changes.
Testing requirement and 2G on the table for new announcement
One of the hallmark proposals made by the Federal Council is the abolition of testing requirements to enter the country for those who are vaccinated and recovered, a move that has widespread support among cantons that rely on tourism and business travel. The policy has been approved by seven cantons so far, indicating that a change may be on the cards.
Finally, the Federal Council has asked the cantons whether any adjustments need to be made to the current 3G, 2G and 2G+ system of COVID certificates. The move to 2G was implemented in December, in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID in indoor settings.
So far, only Basel Land has expressed its opinion on the change, arguing, “In view of the rapidly increasing level of immunisation in the population and the milder course of the disease with Omicron,” the COVID certificate requirement should be lifted as soon as possible.
New COVID measures expected on Wednesday
It will now be up to the Federal Council to synthesise the demands of each canton into a coherent COVID policy. The council is due to make an announcement on changes to COVID rules on Wednesday.