Coronavirus: Federal Council plans first cautious steps to reopen from 1 March

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The number of new infections with the coronavirus has steadily declined in recent weeks. However, the epidemiological situation remains precarious because of the new, more infectious variants of the virus. At its meeting on 17 February, the Federal Council analysed the situation. It proposes a cautious, gradual easing of measures to allow society to start to reopen and economic activity to resume. At the same time, every effort should be made to prevent a third wave of the disease. In an initial step, the Federal Council aims to allow activities that carry a low risk of infection. From 1 March, shops, museums and library reading rooms should be allowed to reopen, as well as outside spaces at zoos and botanical gardens, and at sports and leisure facilities. Private outdoor events for up to 15 people should also be permitted. In addition, young people up to the age of 18 should once again be able to take part in most sporting and cultural activities without restriction. The Federal Council will take a final decision on these first steps on 24 February after consulting with the cantons.

The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths has continued to fall in recent weeks. The pressure on the healthcare system has also lessened as a result. Nevertheless, the epidemiological situation remains uncertain, as new variants of the virus continue to spread in Switzerland; according to the COVID-19 Science Task Force, the percentage they represent of new infections is currently doubling every 10 to 14 days. The Task Force calculates that there is likely to be a slowdown in the rate at which case numbers fall in the coming weeks. A renewed rise in infections remains possible. The number of people in Switzerland who have been vaccinated is still too low to have an influence on the
epidemiological situation.

Risk-based and gradual opening strategy
The Federal Council proposes a gradual reopening from 1 March. Activities that carry a low risk of infection will be allowed first. More activities should be permitted progressively if infection rates are favourable and as vaccination rates rise. Further reopening phases will follow at monthly intervals as long as the epidemiological situation allows. That way, there is sufficient time between phases to monitor developments.

By taking this cautious approach, the Federal Council is aiming to achieve a gradual normalisation of social and economic life and at the same time avoid a third wave of the disease.

How the risk will be assessed
These steps should be introduced nationally on the basis of simple principles. The decisive factor for early opening will be whether a mask can be worn during a certain activity and whether it is possible to respect social distancing rules. Other factors include situation-specific aspects such as the number of people involved, whether an activity takes place indoors or outdoors, and the extent to which people move around in the process. The Federal Council will also take account of measures that have proved to put a strain on the economy and society, and especially on young people.

First phase: shops, museums, zoos
In an initial phase, all shops should be allowed to reopen from 1 March. The number of customers must however be limited. Capacity restrictions will also apply to shopping centres as a whole.

Museums and reading rooms at libraries and archives will be allowed to reopen. People will be allowed to use outside spaces at leisure and recreation facilities, such as at zoos, botanical gardens and amusement parks. Visitors will still have to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing, and capacity restrictions will also apply. Sports facilities such as ice rinks, tennis courts, football pitches and athletics grounds will be allowed to reopen. In addition to capacity restrictions, face masks will have to be worn and social distancing rules respected; only groups of up to five people will be allowed; recreational matches and competitive events at adult level will not be permitted.

Private outdoor events with up to 15 people will also be permitted.

The coronavirus-related restrictions have been particularly tough on children and young people, particularly in terms of their mental health. The measures applicable to children and young people up to the age of 16 with regard to sporting and cultural activities are already somewhat less restrictive. The Federal Council would like to raise the age limit for restrictions to 18 and extend the range of sporting and cultural activities allowed. In addition, child and youth social work facilities should also be accessible.

Second phase before Easter
A second phase of reopening should commence on 1 April. The intention would be to allow the public to attend cultural and sporting events under closely defined conditions, and to allow indoor sports and the opening of outdoor restaurant seating areas. This will only be possible if the epidemiological situation so allows. In deciding whether or not to ease measures, the Federal Council will take certain values into account: the positivity rate must be below five per cent, the occupancy rate of intensive care beds by COVID-19 patients must be below 25 per cent, the average reproduction rate over the previous 7-day period must be below 1, and the 14-day incidence rate on 24 March should not be higher than it was on 1 March. Even if these targets are achieved, this will not automatically mean that measures will be eased. The Federal Council will base its decision on a combination of these values.

Consultation with the cantons
The Federal Council will take a decision on the first phase of easing measures and how to proceed thereafter at its meeting on 24 February, after consulting the cantons. All other measures introduced by the Federal Council on 18 December 2020 and on 13 January will continue to apply for a month until the end of March.

Clarification of entry rules regarding children
The Federal Council has amended the ordinance concerned in order to clarify the entry restrictions that have been in force since 8 February. Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the requirement to be tested on entering the country. Furthermore, people entering the country on business for only a brief period, such as lorry drivers, are not required to fill out an entry form. In addition to PCR tests, rapid antigen tests are now also accepted for entry into the country.

The Federal Council
www.admin.ch/gov/en/­start.html

General Secretariat FDHA
http://www.edi.admin.ch

Federal Office of Public Health
http://www.bag.admin.ch