Switzerland removed travel restrictions ahead of ski season – Quartz


Almost two weeks ago, on November 26 and 27, Switzerland introduced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for arrivals from a dozen countries – mostly from the southern Africa region, but also from the UK – due to fears over the omicron variant. However, on December 4, the Swiss lifted quarantine for all travellers, becoming the first country to roll back some restrictions.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said it “no longer makes sense to maintain quarantine for people coming from countries where this variant is circulating, because it is also circulating here”.

Instead, Switzerland is extending its covid certificate requirement, shortening the validity period for antigen tests and enforcing broader mandatory rules on wearing a mask. All incoming travelers must take a PCR test before travel, as well as a second PCR test or rapid antigen test between the fourth and seventh day after arrival, and pay out of their own pocket for them. Could the Swiss serve as an example to other countries?

Do quarantines help contain covid-19?

Travel bans are controversial. On the one hand, they can help countries buy more time to improve their response and medical infrastructure to bring the situation under control. On the other hand, they disrupt livelihoods, tear families apart and create a lasting sense of injustice.

“Border measures are never 100% effective and no country that has not pursued a rigorous zero-covid strategy has ever managed to keep a variant away for long,” virus evolution expert Richard Neher at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, Quartz said. “If the main objective is to save time, it should be used wisely and the restrictions lifted as soon as possible.”

Moreover, there is only a small window in which limiting international travel makes sense. “You have to assess the usefulness of travel restrictions in light of local traffic. If local variant cases are high, travel is not the biggest concern,” says Neher.

With covid omicron cases reported in over 38 countries, that window has likely closed. “It’s like trying to stop the sparks from entering the forest, but the forest fires are already starting,” Italian physicist Alessandro Vespignani told The New Yorker of the US ban on flights from from eight southern African countries. “It’s out of the bag.” The omicron variant is already present in a third of US states.

Moreover, such measures unfairly punish a region for responding quickly and accurately, without proof that the variant originated where it was detected. “Johannesburg has the largest airport on the continent,” said Tulio de Oliveira, who leads the viral genomics surveillance program in South Africa. “[Omicron] could have come from anywhere.

Instead of closing borders, the developed world should help its less-developed counterparts achieve vaccine equity, experts say.

Although Switzerland has lifted the quarantine, it has classified seven southern African countries – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa – as regions where a “variant of immune virus which is not yet widespread in the Schengen area”. .” Short-term tourism by nationals of these “emergency brake” countries is still prohibited.

Switzerland scrapped quarantine to save winter tourism

Switzerland has not fully mastered its covid situation. Cases have skyrocketed and hospitals are overburdened and understaffed. In the largest canton, Zurich, there are no more intensive care beds.

But the wealthy Alpine nation has a big motivation for ditching the brakes: to save the ski season.

When the mandatory quarantine requirement came into effect, Zermatt, Switzerland’s busiest ski resort, saw bookings drop 50% in 48 hours, spokeswoman Sabrina Marcolin said. Several tour operators from countries such as Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada have reported mass cancellations of Christmas trips to Switzerland. Winter tourism generates over $5 billion in revenue.

Additionally, the country relies on vaccinations to keep things under control. Almost two-thirds of the population are fully vaccinated, comparable to rates in the UK and Germany. And the jab will remain free and readily available in 2022, the government has assured its citizens. Meanwhile, most unvaccinated travelers from outside the Schengen area will be refused entry unless they can show proof of employment or hardship.

Travel and tourism businesses, from ski resorts to restaurants, are all rejoicing at the reversal of quarantine enforcement.The knee was not jerked,” said managing director of SNO ski holiday agency Richard Sinclair. “It’s nice to have some good news.”

This article has been updated with comments from Swiss scientist Richard Neher.


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