Government confirms stricter measures to curb Covid-19 rise

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga speaks at the press conference in Bern on Friday Keystone / Anthony Anex

Switzerland has ordered restaurants, bars and shops to close from 7pm across much of the country from Saturday. But regions less badly affected by Covid-19 can stay open until 11pm, if the epidemiological situation allows.

This content was published on December 11, 2020 - 14:42

“The number of cases is rising quickly and strongly,” said Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga at a press conference on Friday. Hospitals and medical staff are at their limit, she said.

New infections rose by 5,136 on Friday, continuing the rise across the week. There were 106 more deaths. But the rate of deaths and infections is not evenly spread around Switzerland – the French-speaking region has things under greater control than German-speaking cantons. This has been attributed to some cantons enforcing their own mini-lockdowns, which they were hoping to ease as the number of infections in their regions falls.

The Swiss government had asked the more affected cantons – cantons are in charge of health measures in Switzerland – to act, but it cannot wait any longer, Sommaruga told reporters. Extra measures are needed and “it has to happen quickly”, she added.

Closures, exceptions

Restaurants, bars and shops, museums, libraries, sports and leisure facilities are to close from 7pm. With the exception of restaurants and bars they must also remain closed on Sundays and public holidays. On December 24 and New Year's Eve the closing time will be 1am. 

Following pressure from French-speaking cantons, where infections have been falling in recent weeks, cantons “with a more favourable epidemiological situation” may extend the closing time until 11pm, the government said.External link

The exception would apply to cantons which had a virus reproduction rate below 1 and an infection incidence below the national average over at least a week. In response to a question from a journalist, Health Minister Alain Berset said this currently applied to all cantons of western Switzerland. However, he warned: "The situation can change very quickly".

The government decided against further restrictions on private gatherings. The current rule of no more than ten people will continue to apply.

The measures confirmed on Friday, decided after discussions between the government and cantons and a pre-announcement by the government on Tuesday evening, also include banning events, with certain exceptions. Sports and cultural activities are still permitted in groups of up to five people. The changes, which come into effect at midnight, will remain in place until January 22.

“People are spending more time indoors because of the cold weather and contacts among family and friends are set to increase over the festive season," the government said in a statement, outlining its concerns.

Cantons are cross

It said it was aware that “opinions of the cantons differ considerably”.  While a majority welcomes more uniformity in the measures, “a large majority of the cantons does not agree with the action the Federal Council is taking”.

The disagreement reveals strains on Switzerland’s federal system of politics that devolves many powers to individual cantons. When the pandemic first struck, the government evoked emergency powers to centralise decision making, but it gave powers back to the cantons in the summer. Since then the country has been steering “the special Swiss way”, a middle course between shutting the economy and stemming the pandemic, without a full lockdown.

Sommaruga said the government's actions did not go against the cantons. “What matters is not who decides, but that the figures come down,” she stressed. Both Sommaruga and Berset underlined that the federal government had a national responsibility in this unprecedented situation.

The measures announced on Friday are “really moderate” Berset said, but the more they are not adhered to, the closer a lockdown would come.

The government will discuss whether to proceed with even further-reaching restrictions at its meeting on December 18.

The government also said on Friday that it would increase its compensation fund for hard-hit companies by CHF1.5 billion ($1.69 billion) to CHF2.5 billion.

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