On 17 February 2021, Switzerland’s Federal Council presented its plan to start reopening from 1 March 2021.
With the number of new infections declining over recent weeks, political pressure has been growing for a return towards normality. A petition opposed to anti-Covid restrictions has now been signed by more than 250,000 people.
At its meeting on 17 February, the Federal Council said that 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.
To begin, the Federal Council aims to allow resumption of activities that carry a low risk of infection. From 1 March 2021, shops, museums, libraries, zoos, botanical gardens, and sports and leisure facilities are likely to be allowed to open. Private outdoor events for up to 15 people should also be permitted and 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 2021 after consulting with the cantons.
The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths has fallen in recent weeks, relieving pressure on the healthcare system. At the same time the COVID-19 Science Task Force is concerned by the potential for a resurgence. The Task Force thinks there is a possibility of a renewed rise in infections. Cases of infection of the fast spreading new variants are doubling every 10 to 14 days. In addition, it thinks the number vaccinated in Switzerland so far is too low to have an influence on the epidemiological situation. Currently, 1.18% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
If the epidemiological situation remains favourable, the Federal Council plans to allow further opening beyond the initial phase. It will also factor in the effects of vaccination as it progresses. The positive impact of vaccination in Israel, where nearly 80 doses per 100 have been administered, is promising.
Decisions to allow reopening will consider whether a mask can be worn during the activity, whether it is possible to respect social distancing rules, the number of people involved, whether an activity takes place indoors or outdoors, and the extent to which people move around in the process.
First phase: shops, museums, zoos
From 1 March 2021, all shops should be allowed to reopen. The number of customers must however be limited. Capacity restrictions will also apply to shopping centres.
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 and 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 less restrictive measures applicable to children and young people up to the age of 16 with regard to sporting and cultural activities will be extended to 17 and 18 year olds.
Second phase (expected before Easter)
It is hoped that a second phase of reopening can start on 1 April 2021. This phase would allow the public to attend cultural and sporting events under specified conditions, for example outdoor dining.
Phase two will only proceed if test positivity is below 5%, less than 25% of ICU beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients, the 7-day reproduction rate is 1 or below, and the 14-day case rate is lower than it was on 1 March 2021.
The next date to await is 24 February 2021 when the Federal Council will announce whether it plans to proceed with the first phase.