Coronavirus: restrictions relaxed for private gatherings from 22 March; further easing postponed due to rising case numbers

Bern, 19.03.2021 - At its meeting on 19 March, the Federal Council decided to relax restrictions regarding indoor gatherings of family and friends from five to a maximum of ten people. In view of the fact that case numbers have been rising since the end of February, the risk of an uncontrolled increase in cases is currently too great to allow any further measures to be eased. Furthermore, not enough people have been vaccinated to prevent a sharp rise in hospital admissions. The Federal Council does not wish to jeopardise the good starting point for the vaccination campaign for the coming months. The Federal Council has defined a set of indicator values in the event that stricter measures have to be imposed because of a deterioration in the epidemiological situation. It has also approved the tariff agreement negotiated by involved parties on the reimbursement of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The epidemiological situation has been deteriorating since the end of February. The number of cases of infection continues to rise. At present, case numbers are likely to double every three to four weeks. Three of the four indicator values set by the Federal Council for the second phase of reopening have been exceeded for several days now: the 14-day incidence has risen to over 200 per 100,000 inhabitants, the positivity rate is over 5 per cent, and the reproductive number is significantly higher than 1 at 1.14. Only the occupancy rate for intensive care beds with COVID-19 patients is below the defined indicator value.

No further easing of measures
In the current epidemiological situation, the Federal Council does not believe that Switzerland should proceed with the second phase of reopening as outlined in the consultation. Case numbers are also rising in all of our neighbouring countries despite the fact that the measures in force in certain countries are significantly stricter than in Switzerland. There are also indications that the new virus variants are not only more infectious, but also more deadly. The new variants now account for over 80 per cent of infections. Moreover, the number of vaccinations is still too low to prevent a sharp rise in hospital admissions, and efforts to conduct more widespread testing have only just begun.

Private gatherings: ten people instead of five
With Easter approaching, the Federal Council will allow indoor gatherings of family and friends involving up to ten people instead of five from 22 March. Children are included in that number. The public are nevertheless encouraged to exercise caution and limit gatherings to members of only a few households. Before going to private gatherings they should also take up the opportunity to take a free test. The measures already in place to combat the epidemic are to be extended. The aim is not to jeopardise the good starting point for the vaccination campaign over the coming months nor the prospects of a further phase of reopening after Easter. The Federal Council will decide on the next steps to take on 14 April. The package of measures set out in last week's consultation will form the basis of the next phase of reopening.

Evaluation of consultation findings
The consultation revealed that a clear majority of the cantons would welcome a gradual reopening with accompanying measures. Many of the responses called for this to happen either more extensively, in a more differentiated manner or on a different time-scale. Almost all of those who responded to the consultation called for a relaxation of the ban on face-to-face teaching at higher education and continuing education institutions. All supported the reopening of restaurant outdoor seating areas from 22 March, while half of the cantons also called for indoor areas to reopen if the situation allows. Some responses also expressed a desire for greater caution before proceeding with further reopening steps. The Federal Council discussed these responses as well as the National Council's declaration calling for a more extensive reopening.

Indicator values for renewed tightening of measures
At its meeting today, the Federal Council also discussed at what point it would have to consider tightening measures again if the situation were to drastically deteriorate. One of the factors to be taken into account is the number of people vaccinated. The Federal Council proposes a three-stage plan. Stricter indicator values are needed until all those in high-risk groups have been vaccinated (stage one). A key value is a 14-day incidence of no more than 350. Other indicator values to be considered include the occupancy of intensive care unit beds with COVID-19 patients, hospitalisations and the reproductive number. These values will not automatically determine what happens, but serve as a basis for any decision the Federal Council may take. Once all those in high-risk groups have been vaccinated (stage two), indicator values may not have to be as strict. However, the epidemic must be under control. Once all those who wish to be vaccinated have received their vaccinations (stage three), there should be no further need for lockdown measures and indicator values should no longer be necessary. However, all this depends on the impact that new virus variants may have.

Adjustment of flat-rate tariff for COVID-19 vaccinations
Today, the Federal Council also approved adjustments to the tariff agreement negotiated by tariff partners for the reimbursement of COVID-19 vaccinations under compulsory health insurance. A separate flat-rate tariff of CHF 24.50 per vaccination has been agreed for medical practices until the end of June, dropping to CHF 16.50 from July. Furthermore, the Confederation will reimburse pharmacies that administer the vaccine at a flat rate of CHF 24.50. The flat-rate tariff for vaccination centres will remain at CHF 14.50 per vaccination. The cost of vaccination against COVID-19 will be covered in full. No deductible or retention fee will be charged.

Report of the National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics
Today, the Federal Council also acknowledged the report of the National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics (NCE) entitled ‘Federal Council measures in managing the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic from an ethical perspective'.

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