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Pressure builds on Swiss government over Covid lockdown

Berset, and the rest of the Swiss government, is under pressure to both keep the lockdown running and to end it. Keystone / Anthony Anex

The Swiss government is facing a difficult balancing act between lifting lockdown measures and preventing a third wave of infections.

This content was published on February 15, 2021 - 15:58
swissinfo.ch/mga

On Monday Interior Minister Alain Berset was criticised in the press for reportedly ignoring warnings of a second wave last summer. Also on Monday almost 300,000 citizens expressed their displeasure at restrictions via petitions.

The Tages-AnzeigerExternal link accuses Berset of ignoring advice from the country’s Covid taskforce against lifting the first lockdown last summer. The newspaper uncovered a document from August that warned of increasing numbers of infections just days before the government decided to allow events of more than 1,000 people to take place again from October.

The news comes as the government is apparently mulling a relaxation of lockdown measures, which have been imposed in stages since the autumn and were tightened in January. Business and industry lobby groups have been increasing the pressure on the government in recent days to loosen restrictions.

The number of infections and deaths in Switzerland has been steadily falling in the past few weeks, but the pandemic has been difficult to erase completely. On top of that, the number of detected variant strains is rising, which make up a greater proportion of all recorded cases each week.

Warnings

In December Berset admitted that mistakes had been made in lifting the summer lockdown last year. The Tages-Anzeiger says it has seen documents that show this was indeed the case.

On August 7 the Swiss Covid taskforce explicitly warned of the increasing number of infections in Switzerland over the middle summer weeks. The document says this sent a “clear signal of an epidemic turnaround”. This appears to reinforce warnings issued by the taskforce in June.

But on August 12 the government decided to continue rolling back the lockdown. The number of infections rapidly increased in the autumn, at one stage topping 10,000 per day.

Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger, a Swiss interior ministry spokesperson would not confirm whether other government ministers had been directly informed of the taskforce warning. She added that any recommendations relating to pandemic measures had to be discussed first with the cantons.

Petitions

Added to the mix are two petitions calling for a lifting of restrictions, which were unveiled on Monday. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party says the petitions, entitled “Enough, Mr Berset” and “Canteens for Workers”, have been signed by some 244,000 and 50,000 people respectively.

The first petition calls for the immediate opening of restaurants, bars, shops and leisure facilities; the second for people to have the same access to canteens that is enjoyed by politicians in the parliament building in Bern.

Neither petition would lead to a public vote, but a referendum is on the cards after a people’s initiative was submitted last month to challenge a law that allowed the government to assume emergency powers during the pandemic.

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