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Swiss plan free coronavirus tests for population

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Switzerland unveiled a 1 billion Swiss franc ($1.08bn) plan on Friday (5 March) to offer free coronavirus tests for its entire population as part of measures to ease the country’s exit from COVID-19 restrictions, writes John Revill.

Under the proposals each person would be given five self-test kits per months, as soon as reliable tests are available, the government said, while all tests at pharmacies and testing centres will be free of charge.

Companies and schools should carry our repeated tests

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using pooled saliva samples to improve prevention and detect outbreaks early, it said. Workers at companies which test frequently could be exempt from quarantine requirements.

To ensure more testing is carried out, the government proposed to pay for the voluntary tests. It estimated the expanded testing scheme will cost more than 1 billion francs this year.

A final decision on the proposal is due on March 12, with the plan due to take effect from March 15. Cross-border commuters will also be covered.

“In order to specifically interrupt chains of infection, it must be possible to quickly identify who is carrying the virus,” the government said. “Testing is therefore a central component of pandemic control.”

Switzerland is slowly emerging from its latest lockdown, with shops, museums, and libraries reopening and sporting and cultural activities for youngsters resuming this week.

Schools and many ski lifts are open, but restaurants and cultural venues remain closed.

The next stage of reopening is planned for March 22 if the course of the pandemic allows, the government has said. It will decide on March 19 what steps to take next.

So far 9,331 people have died here of COVID-19 in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein during the pandemic, while 562,290 cases have been confirmed.

Church bells rang out at noon and people observed a minute of silence to mark a year since the country’s first death from COVID-19.

($1 = 0.9263 Swiss francs)

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EU response lessens COVID-19 economic blow

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Had the EU institutions not intervened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bloc’s economy would have seen much worse, says the World Bank report, writes Cristian Gherasim.

The report titled Inclusive growth at crossroads pointed to the governments of member states as much as to the EU institutions stepping in to dampen the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the very poor. The economic response meant that the most serious effects of the pandemic on employment and income were avoided.

According to the World Bank document, the pandemic exposed and increased deep inequalities, halting progress in multiple areas, including gender equality and revenue convergence in all EU member states. Today, it is estimated that between three and five million people in the EU are "at risk of poverty" on the basis of national value thresholds compared to pre-crisis levels.

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“A green, digital and inclusive transition is possible if economic policy is increasingly geared towards reforms and investment in education, health and sustainable infrastructure,” said Gallina A. Vincelette, director for the European Union Countries at the World Bank.

The report shows that some of the economic support systems in place can help with ongoing reforms happening across the European Union. There is also need for a continued approach with government support schemes and vaccination key to the strengthening of companies, employees and households.

As we seen across Europe, given the fact that the pandemic isn’t over, governments respond to the prolonged crisis by continuing to offer state aid even throughout 2021.

Yet, regardless of the response, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered EU's strongest peace recession since World War II, with an economic contraction of 6,1% in 2020.

The World Bank report calls for governments to make sure that sound and well-thought policies are in place as well as active labor market policies to support an inclusive recovery. The report stresses that special attention should be given to vulnerable pre-pandemic workers, such as young people, and the self-employed. These groups are more vulnerable to adjustments in employment in times of crisis and may face longer periods of unemployment or periods when they are out of work and lacking a source of income.

A particular attention in the report is given to women who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The report found that at least one in five women will have difficulty returning to work, compared to one in ten men.

The hardest hit areas of the EU by the pandemic’s economic fallout have been the emerging economies. In the case of Romania, the World Bank report shows that the number of people at risk of poverty increased significantly at the beginning of the pandemic, as a result of the substantial decrease in incomes in the first wave of the pandemic.

In emerging economies, despite rapid introduction of government support measures combined with job adjustment policies contributing to moderating poverty levels, the poverty rates are still expected to remain above pre-crisis levels.

The World Bank's Global Economic Outlook report suggests that we will have strong but uneven growth in 2021. The global economy will grow by 5.6% - the strongest post-recession rate in 80 years. The outcome largely reflects a strong recovery in some large economies, yet sluggish in others.

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EU health body warns against visiting popular Greek islands over COVID-19

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People stand on Elli Beach, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi/File Photo

Greece's south Aegean islands were marked 'dark red' on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's COVID-19 map on Thursday (29 July) after a rise in infections, meaning all but essential travel to and from the region is discouraged, writes Karolina Tagaris, Reuters.

The cluster of 13 islands includes Greece's most popular destinations for foreign tourists - Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes - which, combined, draw millions of people every summer.

Greece had relied on promoting "COVID-free" islands to draw visitors back this summer, hoping a rebound in international travel would resuscitate its vital tourism industry after its worst year in decades in 2020. Despite a strong June in terms of arrivals, uncertainty remains over how the season will unfold. Read more.

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"We're waiting to see how the (tourist) markets will react," said Manolis Markopoulos, president of the hoteliers association of Rhodes, where more than 90% of tourists are from abroad, referring to the ECDC decision. The ECDC is an agency of the European Union

Germany and Britain are the biggest sources of visitors to Greece.

The dark red zones on the ECDC map help distinguish very high-risk areas and also helps EU member states uphold rules requiring testing on departure and quarantine upon return.

Last week it downgraded Crete, Greece's biggest island and another popular destination, to the dark red zone.

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France calls UK quarantine rules discriminatory and excessive

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A passenger looks at a departures board with cancelled flights from Paris to London and Bristol at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy near Paris, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

England's decision to keep quarantine measures for travellers coming from France and not for those coming from other European Union countries is discriminatory and not based on science, a French minister said on Thursday (29 July), writes Michel Rose, Reuters.

England said on Thursday it would allow fully vaccinated visitors from the EU and United States to arrive without needing to quarantine from next week, but that it would review rules for travellers from France only at the end of next week. Read more.

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"It's excessive, and it's frankly incomprehensible on health grounds ... It's not based on science and discriminatory towards the French," French Europe Minister Clement Beaune said on LCI TV. "I hope it will be reviewed as soon as possible, it's just common sense."

Beaune said France was not planning tit-for-tat measures "for now".

The British government has said it is keeping quarantine rules for travellers from France because of the presence of the Beta variant there, but French officials say the bulk of cases comes from the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.

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