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Skiing: Relaxed Swiss Covid rules attracting ‘record numbers of foreigners’

Switzerland is attracting record numbers of foreign tourists thanks to its comparatively relaxed Covid measures, with up to five times as many foreigners on the Swiss slopes as before the pandemic.

A skier gets some sweet air jumping off that fresh white pow pow over a triangle.
Are Switzerland's relaxed skiing rules placing it at risk? Photo by Laurent Perren on Unsplash

In October, Switzerland courted controversy when announcing that the Covid certificate, the country’s primary tool to encourage vaccination and stop the spread of the pandemic, would not be required for winter sports. 

This put Switzerland at odds with its neighbours, many of whom put in place strict rules for winter sports. 

Stupidity or freedom? Foreigners in Switzerland on Covid rules for skiing

While the decision may have put Switzerland at a higher Covid risk, it has had a positive impact on the country’s tourism industry. 

Switzerland’s RTS media organisation reported on Sunday that unlike some of its neighbours which have struggled, Switzerland is now hitting pre-Covid highs in ski resort areas. 

Switzerland has become particularly popular among foreigners wanting to escape the harsh rules at home. According to a study by Swiss Tourism, some ski areas in Switzerland are seeing five times as many guests from abroad as before the pandemic. 

Swiss Tourism spokesperson Markus Berger said the relaxed Covid rules were a major motivator. 

“Our survey showed that up to five times as many guests came to the Swiss ski areas from neighbouring countries, i.e. from Germany for German-speaking Switzerland and from France for French-speaking Switzerland,” Berger told RTS. 

“They have often stated that the less stringent restrictions for Covid-19 were the reason for their trips to Switzerland,”

Klaus Nussbaumer, CEO of the Pizolbahnen ski resort, told RTS that lax rules were not the only reason, however. 

READ MORE: Can Switzerland’s ski season withstand Omicron surge?

“We are now posting numbers like before the pandemic again. This is certainly due to the fact that the weather and snow were good even at Christmas. And that the restaurants are open again,” Nussbaumer said. 

While the Covid certificate is still required to visit restaurants in Switzerland, restaurants have been forced to close in parts of Germany and in Austria over the previous weeks. 

Berger however said he did not feel the influx of foreigners attracted by fewer Covid measures would lead to greater risk – particularly as ski resorts saw it in their interest to reduce infections.

“Everyone emphasises that compliance with the protective measures has top priority. The motto of those responsible is: We want to take the momentum of today and stay open for the whole season.”

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Swiss President tests positive as Covid rules lifted

President Ignazio Cassis has tested positive for Covid-19, the government said on Thursday -- the same day Switzerland lifted almost all remaining coronavirus restrictions despite high case numbers.

Swiss President tests positive as Covid rules lifted

Wednesday’s “test came back positive and the president went into self-isolation this morning as soon as he learned of the test result,” a government statement said.

“Mr Cassis has no symptoms and is in good health.”

The former cantonal doctor, aged 60, who holds the annually-rotating Swiss presidency alongside his foreign affairs brief, will return to his office next week.

EXPLAINED: Who is Switzerland’s new President Ignazio Cassis?

Cassis struck an upbeat tone on Wednesday as he announced Switzerland was joining European countries including Austria, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway in dropping almost all of Covid-19 restrictions.

“The light is definitely there on the horizon,” he told a press conference, adding it was time to “learn to live with the virus”.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of a return to normal, but we shouldn’t be too enthusiastic either,” he said.

Q&A: Everything you need to know about Switzerland relaxing Covid measures

The only remaining coronavirus requirements in Switzerland are the obligation to self-isolate for five days after a positive test and to wear masks on public transport and in healthcare institutions.

To enter the country, it is no longer necessary to provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test, or complete an entry form.

ANALYSIS: Switzerland ends most Covid restrictions — but what’s next?

Switzerland, population 8.6 million, has registered more than 2.6 million Covid-19 cases and over 12,500 deaths during the pandemic.

At around 20,000 a day, recorded new infections are now around half of the peak witnessed towards the end of January.

However, the case rate is still higher than in the surrounding European Union. Nearly 69 percent of Swiss residents are fully vaccinated and 41 percent have had a booster dose.