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Swiss press divided over phased easing of Covid restrictions

Swiss President Guy Parmelin (right) and Health Minister Alain Berset at Wednesday's press conference to confirm the relaxation measures on Wednesday Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Is the government showing some backbone or being cowardly by keeping to its gradual pandemic reopening plans? The Swiss media can’t agree.

This content was published on February 25, 2021 - 11:19
Swiss media/SWI swissinfo.ch/ilj

For the German-speaking Neue Zürcher ZeitungExternal link broadsheet, the government – which confirmed its measures on Wednesday – is simply being obstinate.

There had been pressure from some cantons and the catering sector to re-open restaurants sooner, but, after consultation, the federal and cantonal authorities have kept to the staggered reopening plans announced earlier this month. Shops, zoos and outdoor recreational facilities will reopen, but restaurants will remain closed until at least March 22, including outdoor dining areas (a measures being pushed for in ski resorts in particular).

“It would have been so easy. The government, by allowing earlier opening of open-air catering, would have sent a not so risky important psychological sign. This obstinacy is incredible. And, in the worst case, counter-productive,” said the newspaper.

But another Zurich newspaper the Tages-AnzeigerExternal link felt the government had shown “backbone” with its decision.

“… it is a surprise that the government did not cave in. It is keeping to its planned course with cautious reopenings… It may be hard for those affected – but the decision is unfortunately the right one. The pandemic situation is not fixed,” it said, referring to the fact that although overall coronavirus case numbers are down (although in the last few days not as much as before), the number of new variant cases is on the rise.

“Populist demands”

The Tages-Anzeiger said that the decision was all the more surprising given that four out of seven government ministers – the Swiss government is made representatives of four main political parties who have to work together – were on members of parties who had lobbied, (sometimes aggressively in the case of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party) for faster lifting of restrictions.

That these four Federal Council members did not do this meant they were not swayed by “highly populist demands”. The People’s Party had previously – and controversially – called the government’s position a “dictatorshipExternal link”.

For the Swiss public broadcaster SRFExternal link, the government was simply “keeping its options open”. The BundExternal link newspaper added that, despite the “noise” over the relaxation measures, there was no appetite in Switzerland for risking a third coronavirus wave.

Vaccinations and sequencing

The Corriere del TicinoExternal link, in Italian-speaking Switzerland, noted in its editorial that “Bern was continuing forward on a tight-rope, like a trapeze artist without a net who is afraid of falling down again, also because if this happens it will be very difficult for all of us, faced with new closures, to find the energy to get up again”. It added that the small number of citizens vaccinated against the coronavirus was key in the debate here. Only by immunising more widely and more quickly could re-openings be a reality, it said.

For its part, the French-speaking Le Temps argued External linkthat genetic sequencing of the more contagious variants was now of utmost importance. Scientists were ready, it pointed out, all that is needed now is “political will”.

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