Faced with overworked hospital staff and rising cases, on 18 December 2020, Switzerland’s Federal Council decided to close restaurants, bars, cultural venues and sports and leisure facilities from 22 December 2020.
The epidemiological situation is a cause of great concern, said the Federal Council. The number of infections is very high and continues to rise. Hospitals and healthcare workers have been under extreme pressure for weeks and the festive period increases the risk of accelerating the rise in cases.
On 18 December 2020, after consulting the cantons, the Federal Council decided to further tighten national measures against the spread of the coronavirus with the aim of considerably reducing the number of contacts. From Tuesday, 22 December 2020, restaurants, bars, cultural venues and sports and leisure facilities will be required to close across the nation until 22 January 2021.
The aim of the new measures is to reduce case numbers rapidly to protect people from the virus, safeguard the health service and relieve the pressure on healthcare workers.
Restaurants to close
Restaurants and bars will be required to close. No exceptions will be made for the festive period. There will however be exceptions for work canteens, school canteens in primary and lower secondary schools, and meals for hotel guests. Takeaways and delivery services may remain open.
Sports facilities must close. Outdoor sports in groups of no more than five people continue to be permitted. Professional matches may continue to be played behind closed doors. Sports and cultural activities for children and young persons under the age of 16 are permitted, with the exception of competitive events.
Museums, cinemas, libraries, botanical gardens, zoos, and other cultural and leisure venues must close too.
The maximum number of people who may be in a shop at any given time will be further restricted. The maximum number depends on the floor space available. Strict precautionary measures will continue to apply in all shops. Restrictions on opening hours continue to apply: shops must remain closed between 7pm and 6am, and on Sundays and public holidays.
Cantons where the epidemiological situation is more favourable can choose to relax certain restrictions and allow restaurants and other facilities to open. To do so the R-number must be below 1 and the 7-day case rate must be below the Swiss average.
For example, the canton of Valais announced on 18 December 2020 that it planned to keep restaurants and ski lifts open. On 18 December 2020, the cantons of Geneva and Vaud announced they had taken similar positions but will review the situation on 21 December 2020.
People are urged to stay at home and keep social contacts to a minimum and refrain from making unnecessary journeys or excursions.
The Federal Council wants to be able to take further measures quickly in the coming weeks if the situation continues to deteriorate. It is monitoring developments closely. It will make an interim assessment on 30 December 2020 and look the situation again in early January.
Cantons remain responsible for ski areas
The cantons remain responsible for ski areas, which can only remain open if the epidemiological situation allows and there is sufficient hospital capacity and contact tracing and testing resource. Strict precautionary measures must also be in place. If these requirements are not met, ski areas will not be granted an operating permit.
Federal Council expands the use of rapid tests
From 21 December 2020, rapid tests will be more accessible. So far only rapid antigen tests using a nasopharyngeal swab have been approved. From next week, pharmacies, hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and testing centres will be permitted to use any type of rapid test that meet the FOPH criteria.
Everyone will qualify for these tests, even those without symptoms. However, a negative result is only valid for the day of the test and people who take a rapid test without meeting the normal test criteria must pay for the test themselves. Those who test positive must take a PCR test immediately in order to confirm the result and the federal government will pay for the confirmatory PCR test.
The federal government underlined that the expanded use of rapid tests is not intended as a substitute for the rules on hygiene and other behaviour issued by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). Hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing masks and reducing contact with others remain the key measures for preventing infection and controlling the epidemic, it said.