Switzerland said Wednesday it would allow stranded residents of Britain and South Africa to fly home just in time for Christmas, in a temporary exemption from its general flight ban.
Switzerland suspended air links at short notice from midnight Sunday and imposed a ban on arrivals from both countries, in response to a new variant of Covid-19 that British officials believe spreads much more easily.
It also imposed a retroactive 10-day quarantine on all arrivals from the UK and South Africa from December 14.
Swiss ski resorts are a top draw for winter holidaymakers from Britain.
Residents of Britain and South Africa, as well as Swiss residents in those two countries, “will be able to return home from December 24”, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) said in a statement.
However, the flights out of Switzerland are “generally intended” only to repatriate UK and South Africa residents currently staying in the Alpine nation.
“Special protective measures apply to persons currently in quarantine. They will be kept apart from other travellers on the journey to the airport to minimise the epidemiological risk” using a “special transfer service,” the FOCA said.
As for entry into Switzerland from Britain and South Africa, “there is a risk that persons entering Switzerland from these two countries may bring the new variant of coronavirus with them”, the statement said.
Therefore airlines need to request a temporary exemption from the ban for inbound flights.
Only Swiss citizens, Swiss residence permit or longer-stay visa holders, and Swiss “laisser passer” holders can travel on board.
They must then begin a 10-day quarantine.
European nations on Wednesday began easing travel bans on Britain put in place in the hope of containing the new mutation of Covid-19.
The European Commission urged EU nations to reopen their borders to Britain and replace the blockades with mandatory tests for arrivals.
The new coronavirus variant set off alarm bells worldwide just as vaccines are being rolled out to halt the pandemic.
Switzerland, which is not in the EU, became the first country in continental Europe to deploy the newly-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.
It was issued to a woman in her 90s in a care home in the Lucerne region.