Switzerland tightens restrictions, announces more economic aid

Economics Minister Guy Parmelin (centre), flanked by Interior Mnister Alain Berset (right) and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer (left) announced new measures to try and tackle the coronavirus crisis. Keystone

The Swiss government has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces to stem the spread of the coronavirus and a CHF32 billion ($32.7 billion) financial package to help the economy.

swissinfo.ch

Interior Minister Alain Berset said the ban would come into force at midnight Friday and remain in place until April 19. People found violating the ban face a fine of CHF100.

He appealed to citizens to keep a distance of two metres apart.

However, the government stopped short of announcing a complete nationwide lockdown.

"This is a very Swiss approach, the government doesn't impose restrictions that people can't understand," Berset told a news conference on Friday. "It is a harsh measure in a free society but necessary to protect the vulnerable people."

Spirit of citizenship

He said the measures should be applied with common sense and needed to be understood by everybody. But he came out against what he called "populist" announcements by governments in other countries where the measures are not implemented.

Berset again appealed to the spirit of citizenship and self-responsibility. "It is a serious situation and we are facing hard times," he said, appealing to all members of society to adhere to the rules.

The government also ordered companies, notably in the building sector, to be closed if they are found in contravention of the health rules.

In addition, additional troops can be deployed to support civil authorities, private and public institutions and the population to cope with the crisis.

Economic measures

The government also announced an additional CHF32 billion for the labour market, including tourism, culture and sports. This package is in addition to the CHF10 billion already announced a week ago to cushion the expected downturn caused by the virus.

These measures are intended to safeguard jobs, guarantee wages and support the self-employed, said Economics Minister Guy Parmelin.

The bulk of the cash will go into guarantees for bank loans - CHF20 billion - for companies with liquidity problems and for "very modest" interest  rates, according to Finance Minister Ueli Maurer.

He did not exclude further aid packages at a later stage to avoid a collapse of the economy. 

The right to compensation in the event of a reduction in work will be extended to temporary workers and for people in an apprenticeship, so that companies will not have to let their apprentices go.

Parents who have to interrupt their work to care for their children after schools closed can claim compensation. The same applies in the event of an interruption of work due to a quarantine ordered by a doctor.

The package is subject to approval by a parliamentary committee and is set to come into force next Thursday.

The Swiss economy currently still works at about 80%, according to Parmelin and the loss in GDP is currently estimated at about CHF30 billion.

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