Swiss start dialling back pandemic restrictions

Skiers start their day amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the Glacier 3000 ski resort in Les Diablerets
A skier wearing a protective face mask stands in the cable car amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the Glacier 3000 ski resort in Les Diablerets, Switzerland, December 22, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Switzerland on Wednesday began easing coronavirus pandemic restrictions as fears waned that a spike in infections fuelled by the Omicron variant would overwhelm the health care system.

Quarantine for people who come into contact with an infected person and a work-from home order will end from midnight, the government said, though it still recommended that people work from home if possible.

It proposed further easing measures in consultations with regional authorities to run until Feb. 9. A final decision on how to proceed was due on Feb. 16.

Switzerland follows other countries scaling back their restrictions in recent days, including Finland, Britain, Ireland and neighbouring Austria, in pursuit of a return to pre-pandemic normality. read more

"Today is a beautiful day," President Ignazio Cassis told a news conference in Bern. "We can see light at the end of the tunnel."

He said the pandemic was not over, but a new phase could start as people begin returning to a normal lives and learn to live with the virus.

More than 90% of Switzerland's population of 8.6 million people have gained protection from the virus, having either recovered from COVID-19 or been vaccinated, said Cassis, a physician.

Despite record high infection figures, there has been no overloading of patients in hospitals and the occupancy of intensive care units has declined, the government said in a statement.

It noted the Omicron variant, although highly transmissible, usually causes less severe illness than earlier variants.

"There are increasing signs that the acute crisis will soon be over and the endemic phase could begin," the statement said.

The government kept in place a requirement for people who test positive for COVID-19 to go into isolation for five days.

For people entering Switzerland without having been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, it proposed lifting a requirement for COVID-19 testing and contact data collection.

Just over 41,000 new cases were reported in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein on Wednesday, taking the total to 2.29 million cases since the start of the crisis. More than 12,400 people have died from the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has advised a cautious approach towards lifting restrictions, noting many countries have not reached their peak in Omicron cases. read more

Reporting by Michael Shields and John Revill, editing by Mark Heinrich

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