Calls grow louder to ease Swiss Covid-19 restrictions

A view of central Geneva on January 18. A semi-lockdown has been in place since mid-January in which non-essential businesses as well as restaurants and bars have been temporarily closed. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Cantonal authorities and business associations are putting mounting pressure on the government to ease pandemic restrictions. The federal government is due to meet on Wednesday to decide on the next steps.

This content was published on February 14, 2021 - 11:39

Calls are getting louder for the government to ease the current semi-lockdown in which non-essential businesses as well as restaurants and bars have been temporarily closed. The measures were imposed mid-January to curb the spread of Covid-19, amid more contagious virus strains.

Several cantonal government ministers are demanding shops re-open on March 1, according to SonntagsZeitung on Sunday.

“The easing [of measures] is now possible,” Valais President Christophe Darbellay told the newspaper.

Geneva Health Minister Mauro Poggia and his Zug colleague Martin Pfister also want shops to re-open quickly, the paper said. Poggia also wants sports facilities, fitness centres and swimming pools to re-open on March 1. Meanwhile, Fribourg Health Minister Anne-Claude Demierre told the paper she is in favour of a “gradual opening of restaurants”.

Exit plan

The influential business lobby group Economiesuisse and the Swiss employers' association outlined their version of an exit strategy in the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper. They want the first measures to be eased at the beginning of March, such as the re-opening of shops, followed by an end to the limit of five people meeting up and an end to the compulsory home office rule. Further easing should be introduction according to the progress of the vaccination campaign and individual willingness to get a shot.

As soon as enough vaccine is available for everyone (around June) - major events such as concerts, parties or sports events should be possible again - but only for vaccinated people, the two associations said.

Last week, Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset urged the public to be patient and hinted that the government may consider loosening some of the measures. The government is due to meet on Wednesday to decide on the next steps. After that the cantons will be consulted.

The number of infections continues to fall slowly – the seven-day average stands at 1,263, down by 19% compared to a week ago. Numbers are lower across the country, apart from in the Lake Geneva region, where figures have stagnated.

But new coronavirus variants, which are around 50% more contagious, pose a real risk of a third wave of infections in Switzerland, health officials warn. The British variant, known as B117, has doubled every ten days and now represents around 20% of the current active caseload in Switzerland. The first cases of the Brazilian variant in Geneva were also confirmed on Thursday, after the first Swiss-wide case in Zurich earlier in the week.

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