Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has called on neighbouring countries to coordinate their exit from coronavirus lockdowns to avert a post-pandemic economic and social crisis.
Cassis was speaking to ministerial counterparts from Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg by video conference on Tuesday.
“Covid-19 is at present still a health crisis. But the pandemic is already triggering an economic and financial crisis, and the necessary measures being taken to stem it will lead to a social crisis,” said Cassis. “That’s why now is the time to think about the best way out of the crisis and the steps we need to take in the coming weeks”.
In particular Cassis recommended that social distancing restrictions should be relaxed as quickly as possible in a coordinated manner. The right balance must be struck between avoiding a new wave of infections whilst aspiring to achieve a “phased return to normality” for citizens, he said.
Having banned large gatherings in February, Switzerland announced further lockdown measures on March 23, which were later extended to at least April 26. Last week, the government unveiled a three-phase plan to lift the lockdown starting from April 27. This would first see hospital services and some parts of the economy return to normality before later re-opening schools, other businesses and public spaces by June 8.
Cassis did not elaborate on how exactly different countries could coordinate their lockdown exits. But he pointed to cooperation during the pandemic, such as treating patients from other countries.
He also pointed to more than 30 flights that saw Switzerland organise the repatriation of 1,870 European Union citizens. Some 655 Swiss nationals have also been returned home on flights organised by Germany, Austria and Luxembourg.
But Cassis made no mention of more contentious episodes during the pandemic when neighbouring countries were accused of blocking shipments of medical supplies, such as face masks and disinfectant hand gel to Switzerland.
The annual meeting of foreign ministers from the five German-speaking nations has been a feature since 2006.
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