People queue at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests tent at the Stadtspital Triemli hospital in Zurich, Switzerland
Switzerland will lift almost all its coronavirus pandemic restrictions from midnight, the government said on Wednesday, as fears waned that a spike in infections fuelled by the Omicron variant would overwhelm the health care system.
The government said only the requirement to wear masks on public transport and while visiting healthcare facilities would remain in force temporarily after the changes, which end nearly two years of restrictions on public life.
"The light on the horizon is very visible," President Ignazio Cassis told a news conference in Bern, although he added the government was ready to reimpose curbs if needed.
"The virus is there. We are learning how to live with the virus," he said.
Mandatory five-day isolation of people who have tested positive will also remain in effect until the end of March.
But shops, restaurants and cultural institutions would be freely accessible, the government said, pressing ahead with measures it had flagged two weeks.
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time", said Casimir Platzer, head of the Gastrosuisse catering sector lobby, hailing the end of a requirement for guests to show a special COVID-19 certificate to enter bars and restaurants.
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, officials note.
Despite tens of thousands of new infections reported daily, the health care system has held up well and the occupancy of intensive care units has declined.
More than 2.6 million infections have been logged in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein since the start of the crisis. Around 12,600 people have died from the disease.
"The acute phase is over," Health Minister Alain Berset said, but he added Switzerland would maintain vaccination capacity to be on the safe side.
Reporting by John Revill, Michael Shields and Stephanie Nebehay