On 12 January 2022, Switzerland’s federal government announced that the isolation and quarantine period in Switzerland would be reduced to five days with immediate effect.
In addition, it proposes that the validity of Covid certificates be reduced to 270 days and that the measures introduced on 17 December 2021 to contain the spread of the virus remain in place until the end of March 2022 in view of the strained situation in hospitals.
According to the government, hospital admissions and occupancy of intensive care units have fallen in recent weeks despite a surge in the number of cases, however, the epidemiological situation remains critical and is difficult to assess, it said.
People who have been vaccinated or have previously recovered from Covid-19 are far less likely to require hospital treatment after becoming infected with the Omicron variant than with the Delta variant. The proportion of people admitted to hospital who have to be treated in intensive care is also lower. New scientific findings also confirm that the third vaccine dose significantly helps to prevent hospital admissions, said the Federal Council. Vaccination continues to offer the best protection against severe illness and long-term consequences, it added.
Isolation and quarantine period to be shortened to 5 days
The Federal Council decided to shorten the isolation period from ten to five days with effect from Thursday, 13 January 2022. In order to come out of isolation, the person concerned must be symptom-free for 48 hours.
Contact quarantine is also to be shortened to five days. Furthermore, quarantine is to be limited to persons who live in the same household as someone who has tested positive or who has had close contact in other ways. Persons who have had their last dose of vaccine or who have recovered from Covid-19 within the last four months are exempted.
The reason for shortening the isolation and quarantine period is due to the shorter interval between infection and transmission of the Omicron variant. In addition, cantonal contact tracing capacity as well as the economy and society have come under increased pressure as the number of people affected by isolation and quarantine requirements has risen sharply in recent weeks.
Pressure on hospitals likely to rise
Although the Omicron variant is less dangerous for vaccinated and recovered persons, an increase in hospital admissions is to be expected because of the very high number of infections. The burden is likely to increase in the normal acute care area first, before possibly increasing in intensive care units as well. More and more hospital patients are testing positive even though they were not admitted due to Covid-19. As a result, they have to be isolated, which makes care in hospital more complex. In addition, a growing proportion of hospital staff are also likely to be absent due to illness, said the Swiss government.
Consultation to extend the validity of current measures
The Federal Council’s strategy remains focused on measures to contain the spread of the virus to prevent hospitals from becoming overstretched. It hopes to extend the ‘2G’ rule in certain indoor settings, extend restrictions on private gatherings and the requirement to work from home. These measures are currently due to expire on 24 January 2022. However, in view of the continuing tense situation in hospitals, the Federal Council proposes extending these until 31 March 2022. The consultation on extending the validity of these measures will last until 17 January 2022.
Should the situation in hospitals deteriorate significantly, the Federal Council said it can still act swiftly by imposing stricter measures such as the closure of facilities and institutions or by limiting capacity at large-scale events, regardless of the consultation.
Consultation to shortening the validity of Covid certificates
The Federal Council also plans to reduce the period of validity of all forms of vaccination certificate from 365 to 270 days to ensure that the certificate remains valid in the EU. Certificates issued as proof of recovery from Covid-19 will also only be valid for 270 days. The cantons will also be consulted on the proposal to shorten the period of validity. This should come into effect from 1 February 2022.
Increase in staff absences
Despite the relief provided by shorter quarantine and isolation periods, an increase in staff absences is to be expected. In this context, the Federal Council stresses the importance of the requirement to work from home. This requirement significantly helps to prevent transmission in the workplace. According to the Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) and the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP), the infrastructure to ensure national economic supply as well as critical infrastructures are well prepared for higher rates of staff absence.
Discussion on expanding intensive care capacity
The Federal Council also discussed ways in which the federal government could support the cantons in their efforts to expand intensive care capacity. Under the Covid-19 Act, responsibility for creating sufficient capacity now rests with the cantons.