GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland's government is halving the self-isolation times required of people who test positive for the coronavirus and the quarantine times required of people they were in contact with, to five days.
The Federal Council, the seven-member executive branch of Swiss government, made the decision Wednesday and in a statement noted intensive-care admissions are lower in the pandemic since the emergence of the omicron variant worldwide over the last two months.
The decision to shorten the isolation and quarantine periods, from 10 days previously, results from shorter times between infection and transmission of omicron compared to earlier variants, the government said. The ability of Swiss regions to trace contacts has come under increased pressure as case counts, and thus people affected by isolation and quarantine, has risen sharply.
“The epidemiological situation is critical and remains difficult to assess: Hospital admissions and occupancy of intensive care units have fallen in recent weeks despite a surge in the number of cases,” the government said.
However, the council cautioned that while omicron is less dangerous for vaccinated and recovered people, a surge in hospitalizations in the country is still expected given a huge spike in case counts and an increase in positive tests among people admitted to hospital “even though they were not admitted due to COVID-19.”
That requires isolating more people, which makes care in hospital more complex, and threatens to sideline more staff members who test positive too, it said.
Bracing for possible staff shortages, the eastern Swiss region of Graubunden on Wednesday said it could order any trained nurses and some other health care specialists who are not currently practicing to go to work if hospitalizations surge. It cited a clause of Swiss law allowing for such a mandatory call-up in health emergencies. Trained personnel at higher risk of severe COVID — such as the elderly — would be exempt.
The federal council, meanwhile, said it too could “act swiftly” if necessary by closing businesses or institutions and capping attendance at public events, as it has done repeatedly in the past during the ebb and flow of the pandemic.
The country of about 8.5 million people reported more than 32,000 cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours, among the highest figures it has recorded during the pandemic. A total of 16 people died of COVID-related causes over the last day, raising the total death toll to 12,047.
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The Associated Press