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covid-19 updates Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

woman enjoying sun from her apartment

Enjoy the good weather, but enjoy it from home, the authorities have urged for the Easter weekend.

(Keystone / Anthony Anex)

Switzerland is one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus. This is where things stand and the latest on the measures in place.

Here’s the latest: 

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  • On April 8, the Swiss government extended the anti-coronavirus restrictions in place for another week until April 26. Some of the emergency measures introduced on March 16external link will be gradually eased towards the end of April. A decision on the specific areas and measures to be relaxed will be presented on April 16.
  • The Swiss foreign minister intervened as Italy "stole" a batch of disinfectant hand gel bound for Switzerland.
  • Police are stepping up their presence at popular public holiday spots to prevent too many people gathering during the Easter weekend.
  • On April 3, the Swiss government doubled its coronavirus emergency loan schemeexternal link to CHF40 billion after being flooded by requests for help by businesses. More than 76,000 agreements have been reached.
  • The government has issued a recommendation to all citizens to stay at home, especially the sick and the elderly. It has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people and more measures to help support the economy.
  • An “extraordinary situation” is in place, resulting in a ban on all private and public events and closing bars, restaurants, sports and cultural spaces; only businesses providing essential goods remain open. Schools are closed nationwide. These measures have been extended until April 26.

What’s the current situation in Switzerland?

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Due to the spread of the coronavirus, the government has categorised the situation in the country as “extraordinary”. This allows the authorities to take over certain powers from the 26 cantons and to impose measures, including bans on events. The application of these legal provisions is a first for Switzerland.

The government ramped up its response to the widening pandemic, ordering on March 16 the closure of bars, restaurants, sports facilities and cultural spaces. Only businesses providing essential goods – such as grocery stores, bakeries and pharmacies – are to remain open. Banks and post offices will also be open. The measures were announced to remain in place until April 19.

On April 8, the government  extended the anti-coronavirus restrictions in place for another week until April 26. Some of the emergency measures introduced on March 16 will be gradually eased towards the end of April. But a decision on the specific areas and measures to be relaxed will be presented on April 16.

More than 6,000 tests are being carried out in Switzerland per day and cantons have been ramping up their testing capacity.  Switzerland has one of the highest per capita ratesexternal link of testing in the world.

The government, while calling on people to stay at home unless necessary, has maintained that daily supplies of medicine and food are guaranteed. It has however rationed some common painkiller and anti-fever drugs, to prevent panic buying.

The government especially recommends that the sick, and people 65 or older, stay at home. Some cantons have gone further by forbidding over-65s from leaving their homes altogether, except for visits to the doctors, or a two-hour solo walk. However, the Federal Justice Office said such measures are in violation of the nationwide regulations.

A decision by canton Ticino, a region neighbouring Italy, to close down factories and stop all non-essential economic activities was initially considered illegal in Bern; however, an adaptation of federal rules regarding regions introducing stricter measures 'unilaterally' was later announced.

The federal government has introduced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public places.

+ What is Switzerland's approach to testing for coronavirus?

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What are the main new government measures?

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Public life has been shut down

Private and public events have been banned while bars, restaurants, sports facilities and cultural spaces have been closed. Schools and universities are also closed, although some are turning to online and distance learning. Only businesses providing essential goods to the population – such as grocery stores, bakeries and pharmacies – are to remain open. 

The measures were announced to remain in place until April 19. On April 8, the government  extended the anti-coronavirus restrictions in place for another week until April 26. Some of the emergency measures introduced on March 16 will be gradually eased towards the end of April. But a decision on the specific areas and measures to be relaxed will be presented on April 16.

The planned nationwide ballot scheduled for May 17, which included a proposal to scrap an accord with the European Union on the free movement of people, has been postponed. A new date will be set by the end of May.

Massive help for the economy

Officials from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) have said that wages for the month of March are guaranteed, although in some cases there might be delays.

In total the government has set aside around CHF62 billion to support the economy. On April 3, it announced it was doubling the amount of emergency loans available to struggling companies to CHF40 billion ($41 billion).

The promised economic package provides relief for companies with liquidity problems to obtain transitional bank loans. Companies hit by the crisis will be able to defer payment of social insurance contributions temporarily and without interest. These measures also apply to self-employed persons whose turnover has fallen.

Various institutes and banks are predicting a recession in 2020, followed by a bounce back in 2021 – if the virus situation is resolved in the coming months.

There is also money to fund the imposition of short-time work at firms while other tranches have been set aside for hardship loans and to support specific sectors such as event management.

Partial unemployment claims have increased sharply due to the coronavirus pandemic and are expected to continue to rise. As of April 4, almost a quarter of the Swiss working population (1.3 million people) were on short time, according to SECO.

Border controls and restrictions on entry 

On March 25 the Swiss government extended entry restrictions to all Schengen and non-Schengen states. 

Only Swiss citizens, Swiss residents, those entering the country for professional reasons (e.g., those who work here and have a permit to prove it), and those transiting through, can enter. Even foreign partners of Swiss citizens, who do not have a right of residence in the country, will be turned away.

On March 27 Swiss military police officers and a militia battalion were sent to the border to provide support to the Federal Customs Administration.

+ What to expect at Swiss borders and airports

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What are the other consequences of the virus for Switzerland?

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Pressure on the health system is growing. In Switzerland there are 82 intensive care units, which have a total of 950-1,000 beds; around 850 of the beds are equipped with respirators. The army has around 100 additional respirators and has put in an order for 900 more.

Three Swiss hospitals have agreed to take patients from France.

Numerous hospitals and nursing homes are prohibiting visits.

The army is providing the cantons with additional ambulances and 800 army personnel are ready to provide assistance if necessary.

+ Swiss militia get historic call up to fight Covid-19

In addition, for the first time the Swiss army is deploying a hospital battalion to support other civilian hospitals; it can welcome 200 patients. To cope with the expected increase in the number of sick people, many cantons have also mobilised civil defence volunteers. 

Major cancelled events have so far included the Geneva International Motor Show and the Baselworld watch fair. Art Basel, originally scheduled for June, has also postponed the fair until September.

All top-flight Swiss football and ice-hockey games have also been called off, as have numerous local social, political and cultural events. The ice hockey World Championship, scheduled to start in Switzerland from May 8, has also been cancelled.

The Swiss Post has reduced services. It can no longer send letters or packages to a long list of countriesexternal link due to the cancellation of many international flights.

What’s the risk of becoming infected with the new coronavirus in Switzerland? 

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The risk of contracting the new coronavirus in Switzerland is currently moderate, according to the Health Officeexternal link.

However, the number of cases still puts Switzerland among the ten most affected countries; current figures from around the world can be found hereexternal link. Advice regarding the usage of hankies and the practice of handshakes was published in all major newspapers following the outbreak. This has been updated to include “keep your distance”.

+ Switzerland issues handshake and hanky rules

In order to prevent and slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible, those known to be affected have been isolated. 

Anyone who has been in close contact with a sick person, i.e. less than two metres away for more than 15 minutes, must also remain in quarantine for two weeks. Authorities also recommend a certain amount of “social distancing” – i.e, when standing in a queue, for example, to keep a certain distance from those around you.

Recommendations for the world of work have also been issued, such as not travelling at rush hour and working from home when possible.

Those worried about a possible infection are advised to phone the doctor’s office first, rather than showing up in person. The cost of a test (CHF180) will be reimbursed by basic health insurance as of March 4, the health office announced.

+ Swiss foundation launches ‘emergency call’ for coronavirus research

What’s the situation for Swiss citizens living abroad? Are repatriations being carried out?

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All Swiss representations abroad remain accessible to Swiss citizens. The representations, and the helpline of the ministryexternal link, have answered hundreds of enquiries from concerned citizens. 

Under the Swiss Abroad Actexternal link, Swiss nationals living abroad cannot claim the right to an organised departure from a crisis area. 

However, after the government requested that Swiss travellers return to the country as soon as possible, the foreign ministry urged tourists to register with a special travel appexternal link and has begun chartering flights to repatriate stranded citizens

Since March 24, some 2,400 Swiss nationals have been repatriated on more than a dozen flights organised by the foreign ministry.  Priority on the flights is being given to Swiss tourists, followed by expatriate Swiss citizens, followed by other stranded European tourists.

The foreign ministry regularly updates information about the “unprecedented recall operation” hereexternal link.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad cancelled the meeting of the Council of the Swiss Abroad in the Swiss capital Bern, which had been scheduled for March 14.

+ Switzerland begins historic repatriation effort

What do you need to consider when travelling to and staying in Switzerland? 

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The government advises against all non-urgent travel in Switzerland and abroad.

All ski resorts have been closed across Switzerland. Tourist trains have also been cancelled.

Swiss International Air Lines has reduced or cancelled many flights to and from areas with a particular risk of infections.

The airline announced that it is cutting back on much of its service and reducing working hours for flight personnel to help safeguard its finances during the pandemic. If the situation gets worse, the airline will have to ground all its aircraft and will then be dependent on government aid, Swiss CEO Thomas Klühr says. Check on the SWISS website for detailsexternal link.

Switzerland's national railway operator has reduced its long-distance timetable and most cross-border routes. Further trains services were being reduced within Switzerland from April 2.

What impact will the spread of the disease have on the Swiss economy? 

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Economics Minister Guy Parmelin has warned that averting a recession will be extremely difficult despite the measures taken. The government said it wanted to help the economy "quickly and unbureaucratically.”

The Swiss stock market has been heavily hit by the panic over the virus.

The tourism and event industries also fear heavy losses. For March and April, Swiss hotels are expecting turnover to fall by up to 90%.

BAK Economics, a think tank, revised its growth forecast downwards for the first six months from 1.5% to 1.3%. In the medium term, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs is concerned about capital markets and the interruption of supply chains for Swiss industry and international corporations based in Switzerland. 

Where can I find further information on the implications of Covid-19?

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swissinfo.ch is keeping this story updated daily with numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, as well as any new significant measures taken by the cantonal and federal authorities. Further sources, which we also use and which may be useful to readers, include:

The Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH)external link: live updates of the national situation, as well as recommendations, public safety measures, and details of upcoming announcements.

The World Health Organization (WHO)external link: information on the origins and nature of Covid-19, as well as the global situation and travel advice.

The Swiss foreign ministryexternal link: information in French, German and Italian about the situation regarding foreign travel and the steps to be followed by Swiss citizens going abroad.

Johns Hopkins Universityexternal link: a global map that tracks the number of cases and fatalities by country; figures may be slightly different from swissinfo.ch’s map, above, due to time lags and/or different methods of defining “confirmed” cases.

Follow SWI swissinfo.ch here, on Facebookexternal link and on Twitterexternal link for timely updates on the situation in Switzerland.

Timeline in Switzerland

·         February 25: Switzerland reports its first coronavirus case – a 70-year-old man tests positive in canton Ticino, in the south of the country bordering Italy. Ticino bans all public events, including the carnival parades.

·         February 27: “Social distancing” is one of the precautions called for as part of an information campaign by the Federal Office of Public Health. The Engadin Ski Marathon – scheduled for March 8 – is cancelled. The Swiss sporting scene starts shutting down.

·         February 28: The government raises the alert level to “special situation” – banning events with more than 1,000 people, including football and ice hockey championships, carnivals in Basel and Lucerne, the Geneva Motor Show and Baselworld watch fair.

·         March 5: A 74-year-old woman dies in Lausanne. She is the first confirmed coronavirus death in Switzerland.

·         March 13: Ticino is the first canton to close all schools as part of its “emergency measures”. The federal government launches an emergency aid package worth CHF10 billion ($10.3 billion) and bans public gatherings of more than 100 people. 

·         March 16: The Swiss government declares an “extraordinary situation”, instituting a ban on all private and public events and closing restaurants, bars, leisure facilities and shops apart from grocery stores and pharmacies.

·         March 19: Canton Uri orders people 65 and older to stay inside their homes. The federal government tells the canton it can’t do that.

·         March 20: The government announces a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces. It urges the public to stay home except to buy food or go to the doctor. Some city parks are shut and police begin enforcing the ban on groups of 5+.

·         March 21: The foreign ministry announces special charter flights for hundreds of Swiss citizens stranded in South America and Africa.

·         March 22: Canton Ticino orders manufacturing plants to shut down, though cantons have been warned not to unilaterally exceed the recommendations of the federal authorities.

·         March 25: The Swiss government extends entry restrictions to all Schengen states. Previously it had imposed restrictions on entry by land and by air from Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Spain, and from all non-Schengen states. 

·         March 27: Swiss cantons will be allowed to shut down industrial activities if they show a risk of spreading coronavirus. The government ruling, which comes with strict conditions, follows a decision by canton Ticino to ban certain manufacturing production.

·         March 31: A scientific taskforce is set up to advise the government and to coordinate national research by universities into coronavirus. 

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