ZURICH, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Switzerland will halve its quarantine time to five days to help tackle 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.
Swiss health authorities said they expect the number of coronavirus infections to peak later this month.
“We expect infections to reach their peak in January,” Tanja Stadler, head of the national COVID-19 science task force, told a media briefing as the government reported more than 24,600 new cases in Switzerland and tiny neighbour Liechtenstein.
“We could get to the peak within the next two weeks if contacts among people stay on the same level. If people are more cautious, it will take longer,” she said.
She said during the peak week up to 300 new patients could have to be admitted to intensive care units.
Virginie Masserey, the health official responsible for infectious disease control, said hospitals had to prepare to deal with the extra inflow of patients.
At the peak, 10-15% of the active population could be absent from work due to quarantine or isolation, she said.
The duration of quarantine could be further reduced to five days, from seven now, and limited to the closest contacts, Stadler said.
The government, which has been trying to avoid another lockdown that could cripple the economy, is meeting on Wednesday to assess the situation.
Tourists wearing protective face masks ride a cable car of Glacier 3000 during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Les Diablerets, Switzerland. EPA-EFE/BASTIEN GALLAY