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Swiss restrict exports of protective equipment as coronavirus hits

Swiss soldier with mask
A Swiss soldier on a practice exercise on March 21 Keystone

Switzerland has introduced temporary restrictions on the export of protective equipment to head off shortages among medical staff and others fighting the coronavirus outbreak. 

Licences will now be needed to export masks, gloves, goggles and swabs as of March 26, the government said on Wednesday. 

Exceptions to the licensing requirement will apply to the European Union as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein as long as they treat Switzerland the same way, it added.

Economics Minister Guy Parmelin said the decision was in line with EU regulations.

“It is a precautionary measure and is not intended to create more problems,” he said. “It’s the least we can do for the Swiss population to avoid a shortage of necessary medical equipment in an emergency situation.”

Parmelin confirmed that said deliveries of protective equipment to Switzerland were still blocked in France and Germany, despite a EU directive exempting the export of protective equipment to countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) from needing an export permit.

“There are apparently still administrative hurdles,” he said at a news conference.

Parmelin said he had spoken to an economics minister from an unspecified neighbouring country, pleading him to speed up procedures and show solidarity.

Last weekend, Swiss hospitals agreed to take a number of coronavirus patients from France.

Entry restrictions

Also on Wednesday, the Swiss government extended entry restrictions to all other 25 Schengen states. The measures previously applied to the neighbouring countries and Spain.  

Citizens of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, people with a Swiss residence permit and people who have to travel to Switzerland for work-related reasons or because of an emergency will continue to be allowed to enter the country. Travellers may continue to transit through Switzerland and movements of goods are still permitted.

Cutting red tape

In another development, the government also announced a raft of measures to cut red tape related to recruitment and short-time working to soften the impact of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The measures are designed to make it easier to recruit medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural or logistics workers.

“We want to provide practical help and we are willing to adapt quickly if need be,” he said.

Last Friday, the government approved a financial package to the tune of CHF32 billion for the Swiss economy, notably for small and medium-sized businesses.

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