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Semi-lockdown to stave off third Covid wave, says Swiss interior minister

Berset was among ministers presenting new measures at a press conference on January 13. Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Interior Minister Alain Berset has defended further Covid-19 restrictions as a preemptive attempt to prevent a third wave of the pandemic.

This content was published on January 14, 2021 - 10:18
swissinfo.ch/mga

Shops will be closed and gatherings further restricted from Monday. In addition, existing restrictions will be extended until the end of February.

Speaking to Swiss public broadcaster SRF, Berset defended the move to enhance a semi-lockdown despite falling cases of infection in Switzerland. He said that the decision was informed by watching a devastating variant strain take hold in Britain and other countries.

“For the first time in this pandemic, we have the advantage of information that allows us to act at the right moment. This new, more contagious variant is a threat. You can see what it is doing in Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. [Switzerland] cannot afford to see numbers exploding at this level,” he said.

Last month, Berset told SRF that the government had let its guard down between waves last year. “We were too lax,” Berset said, pointing out that in the summer – after the first wave – people had the feeling that the worst was over. “And then we were far too optimistic when we thought we could reopen the big events in the fall.”

Mutant strains of the virus have been detected in relatively small numbers in Switzerland so far, but Berset said the cases were doubling every week.

“The question is not whether we should take action. The only question is when. Rather now with less major consequences, or later in a rush with much more serious consequences?” he said.

Some business groups have criticised the decision to shut down non-essential shops and insist on home office working from Monday.

“The additional closure of many shops despite functional protective measures creates major problems,” said the Swiss Business Federation economiesuisse. “The imposition of home office requirements is also disproportionate.”

The lobby group called on the government to ensure the efficient distribution of its hardship fund to struggling businesses. The fund was beefed up on Wednesday and has been made available to more companies.

Swissmem, the engineering sector umbrella group, also criticised the rules on home office work. “Industrial companies invested heavily in protection concepts last year. There are no known cases of industrial companies being hotspots for the virus spreading,” it said.

Swissmem added that many manufacturing processes cannot be carried out at home and called for the restrictions to be lifted by the end of February when vaccinations on most vulnerable people should have been carried out.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly half a million people have become infected in Switzerland with nearly 8,000 deaths recorded. A vaccination programme has started with two vaccines having so far been approved.


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