Covid-19 has dented Switzerland’s ‘perfect’ image abroad

Swiss citizens light 9,200 candles in front of the federal parliament building in Bern on February 21, 2021 to commemorate the people who have died in Switzerland due to Covid-19. Keystone / Peter Schneider

Switzerland’s reputation as a “perfect, well-organised” country took a hit during the pandemic, especially after the second wave in late autumn, according to the head of the country’s branding agency.

This content was published on March 1, 2021 - 12:00

Speaking to the Le Nouvelliste newspaperExternal link on Monday, Nicolas Bideau, director of Presence Switzerland, said the authorities had been voted “top of the class" for coping with the first wave in spring and coming out of the crisis well compared to negative headlines regarding other countries.

On March 16, 2020, Switzerland ordered a nationwide partial lockdown, including shuttering schools, to cope with the rising number of infections. Daily infections peaked at 1,400 (mid-March) with around 60 deaths a day. The nation started re-opening in May.

That month, Bideau told the Le Temps newspaper that Switzerland had attracted positive international headlines for the way it had handled the crisis politically.

However, after Covid-19 cases fell close to zero in summer, new daily infections rose in August-September and increased sharply in October 2020, topping 10,000 at the beginning of November and swamping hospitals. More than 9,200 people have died in connection with Covid-19 in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.

“The marks of the model student plummeted” when it was tested by the second wave of the pandemic, said Bideau.

Salvaging reputation

National and regional measures have managed to bring the numbers down slowly. By late February 2021, new case numbers were averaging around 1,000 per day. However, health officials warn that new coronavirus variants, which are around 50% more contagious, pose a risk of a third wave of infections.

Meanwhile, this winter Switzerland has faced international criticism for allowing ski resorts to remain open.

“I think that we are mostly criticised in neighbouring countries that are in economic competition,” said Bideau. “If you look worldwide, the criticism has been weak.”

The diplomat noted, however, that no state had found the ideal solution for managing the crisis.

“Like all other countries we have had our imperfections, our moments of tension,” he said, adding that Switzerland is “well equipped” to overcome the criticism of its reputation.

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