On 17 December 2021, Switzerland’s federal government announced new stricter Covid measures from Monday 20 December 2021.
From Monday, only people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid will be able to enter restaurants, cultural, sporting and leisure venues and attend indoor events. Restricting access to these two groups has been dubbed the 2G rule by the government. Those not in these two groups, even with recent negative test results, will be excluded. Those relying only on recent negative tests are included in 3G but not 2G.
The move is intended to reduce the risk of unimmunised people becoming infected, a group more likely to pass on the virus and become seriously ill.
To provide additional protection, masks must also be worn in these settings and food and drink may only be consumed while seated. In settings where masks cannot be worn, such as brass band practice, or where it is not possible to eat or drink while seated, such as at bars and discos, admission will be limited to vaccinated or recovered persons who also present a negative test result (2G+). Although, people who have been fully vaccinated, received a booster or recovered from Covid within the last four months do not have to take a further test.
The requirement to work from home will also be re-introduced and private gatherings will be limited to 10 people if one person from the age of 16 is present who is unvaccinated or has not previously had Covid.
The Federal Council described the epidemiological situation as extremely worrying. The number of hospital admissions continues to rise and the occupancy of intensive care units (ICUs) is very high in some regions. Most of the patients are unvaccinated middle-aged and older people, said the government. The critical threshold of 300 Covid ICU patients was reached on 13 December 2021. Above this level, optimal care of all patients is no longer possible because it forces other treatments to be postponed. Based on current estimates, Covid ICU numbers are expected to reach between 350 and 400 by the end of the year, said the government.
A further factor is the number of infections with the Omicron variant, which is expected to rise significantly in the run-up to Christmas. According to initial findings, the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant. The protection afforded by vaccination or having previously had COVID-19 is likely to be significantly lower than with the Delta variant. However, protection is substantially better if the vaccine or a booster has been recently administered, advised the Swiss administration. Although it is still unclear how severe the course of the disease is after infection with the Omicron variant and how well those who have been vaccinated are protected against severe disease. If the number of people experiencing severe symptoms is high, this will place additional pressure on the already overstretched healthcare system within a very short time, meaning that capacity limits will be exceeded.
2G+ for clubs and discos and activities where masks are not practical
In addition to the 2G rules for restaurants and other indoor activities, those going to bars, clubs and discos or other places where mask wearing isn’t practical, will need to be vaccinated or recovered and have a recent negative test, a set of requirements known as 2G+.
Rules for private indoor gatherings
If a person from the age of 16 is present who has not been vaccinated or recovered from Covid, no more than 10 people are allowed to meet. Children are included in that number. The upper limit for indoor gatherings is 30 if everyone from the age of 16 is vaccinated or has recovered from COVID-19. The limit for outdoor gatherings is still 50.
Re-introduction of requirement to work from home
The Federal Council is re-introducing a requirement to work from home. If it is necessary for people to work on site, masks must be worn if there is more than one person in the same room.
Mask requirement from upper secondary level
In addition to routine testing, a mask requirement is a key measure in reducing virus circulation in schools. At upper secondary level, masks will be mandatory. The Federal Council strongly urges the cantons to introduce a mask requirement at lower levels as well. Many cantons have already done so. The Federal Council also recommends that the cantons carry out routine testing in schools in order to quickly break chains of infection.
The Federal Council has decided not to introduce distance learning as the holidays are about to begin. At tertiary level, the 3G’rule will apply for certain classes and exams and the normal rules for events will apply in the area of continuing education.
Recommendation to postpone elective medical procedures
The Federal Council also strongly recommends that the cantons postpone non-urgent procedures in hospitals to relieve the burden on healthcare staff. Should the situation deteriorate rapidly over the coming days and weeks, the Federal Council is in a position to respond quickly.
Cost of tests to obtain a certificate to be covered
The Federal Council has also decided to cover the costs of certain Covid-19 tests again. Rapid antigen tests and saliva PCR pool tests will be covered. However, self-tests, individual PCR tests and antibody tests will not be covered, although individual PCR tests will continue to be free of charge for persons who show symptoms, are close contacts or were part of a positive test pool. The new rules governing test costs will apply from Saturday, 18 December 2021.
Only one test on entry for persons who are vaccinated or recovered
After consulting the cantons, the Federal Council has also adapted the testing regime for entering the country, applicable from Monday, 20 December 2021. In addition to PCR tests taken within the previous 72 hours, rapid antigen tests taken within the previous 24 hours will also be accepted for entering Switzerland. The requirement to take a second test 4 to 7 days after entering the country will be waived for persons who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid.
The new measures are set to remain in force until 24 January 2022.