By John Revill and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland will halve its quarantine time to five days to help cope with a wave of coronavirus infections that threatens to hamstring the economy, the government said on Wednesday.
Health authorities had given their blessing on Tuesday for the move, which comes as tens of thousands more people get infected every day due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.
Officials worry that the wave could overwhelm the health care system in a country where only two-thirds of the population has got two jabs and just 30% has had a booster shot.
The government also proposed extending until the end of March curbs on public life it tightened last month while trying to avoid another lockdown and making vaccinations mandatory, as neighbouring Austria is doing.
"The epidemiological situation is critical and remains difficult to assess," the government said in a statement.
The government said although the Omicron variant seemed to be less dangerous, it expected an increase in hospitalisations due to the very high number of infections, which rose to 32,881 new cases on Wednesday.
The reduction in the quarantine requirement will go into effect from Thursday. This could be done because the Omicron variant had a shortened time between infection and transmission to other people, the government said.
Measures introduced in December included the need for people to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 to gain entry to many indoor venues, as well as making work from home mandatory.
National authorities have reported more than 1.6 million confirmed infections on Switzerland and tiny neighbour Liechtenstein since the pandemic broke out in early 2020. More than 12,000 have died of the respiratory ailment.
The eastern canton of the Grisons ordered all residents with nursing training to register in case they are needed to relieve pressure on hospitals.
"It can be assumed that the sharp increase in coronavirus cases will push medical care, or rather the human resources in the nursing professions, to their limits," the regional government said.
(Reporting by John Revill and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, Editing by Michael Shields)