Explainer: Why is Switzerland voting (again) on the Covid-19 law?

Nicolas Rimoldi, the chairman of the referendum committee for this vote, believes that there should not be Covid-19 certificates again. He considers the Covid measure "discriminatory". © Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

While most Covid-19 prevention measures will no longer be in effect, on June 18, the Swiss will nonetheless vote for a third time on the law governing measures to control the pandemic. SWI looks at what’s at stake and why Swiss voters are heading back to the polls. 

This content was published on May 3, 2023 - 10:00

The Swiss are the only people in the world who have been able to vote on their pandemic-management laws. On June 18, they will vote on the Covid-19 law for a third time.

Why are the Swiss voting on the Covid-19 law again?

The “Mesures NON” collective is spearheading the referendum against the Covid-19 law, stating that the measures in the law have caused conflict and are discriminatory. The committee submitted 59,211 signatures to the federal chancellery on April 4, of which 56,184 signatures were validated. This number is sufficient to send the Covid-19 law to a popular vote once again.

The referendum committee for this vote is made up primarily of two associations: Mass-Voll and Amis de la Constitution. These citizens’ movements do not have a clear political affiliation but gained prominence during the pandemic because of their opposition to the policies of the Federal Council, the executive branch of the Swiss government. In particular, the committee objects to the December 16, 2022, modifications to the Covid-19 law and the Covid-19 certificate.

In the two previous referendums, the Swiss have supported the governments pandemic mandate. In June 2021, 60.2% of the public voted in favor of the Covid-19 law, and in November 2021, 62% of voters supported the law despite a tense campaign and numerous demonstrations.

What measures are contested in the referendum?

The Federal Council lifted all remaining Covid-19 measures just over a year ago, so re-opening the debate might seem surprising. But the reason for the renewal of the debate is due to the parliament's decision to extend the measures of the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

The referendum’s main points of contention are the provisions of the Covid-19 law that regulate Covid certificates and the SwissCovid contract-tracing application. It also addresses the rules governing foreigners and cross-border employees during border closures, regulations protecting vulnerable individuals, and support for development of Covid medications.

A number of the Covid-19 law’s measures were not extended and expired at the end of 2022. These include federally funded Covid tests as well as financial support for cultural institutions, sports associations and large-scale events.

What are the main arguments in favour of the law?

The extension of the Covid-19 law gives the government a legal basis for reinstating proven measures in the case that a new wave of infections occurs. It allows the authorities to react quickly to protect vulnerable people and give additional support to the healthcare system.

In concrete terms, the Covid certificate or the contract-tracing software could be reactivated if necessary. The law also guarantees international compatibility of the Covid certificate in order to allow ease of travel to countries that might require a certificate.

The extended measures would also allow for the importation and use of medicines for severe cases of Covid, even if they have not yet been formally authorised for use in the Swiss market.

What are the main arguments against the law?

The referendum committee believes the pandemic is over and therefore think that extending the law is unnecessary. It also maintains that the health measures taken by the government were disproportionate, did not provide the promised protection and instead caused conflict and discrimination.

The opponents of the Covid-19 law argue that a Covid certificate should never be reinstated because it is discriminatory and useless. They accuse the certificate system of having created a two-tier society. They also argue that a regular vaccination certificate is sufficient for travel abroad. They denounce the law for being antidemocratic and says it gives the Federal Council too much power.

Who is for the law and who is against it?

The Federal Council, a large majority of parliament and the business community support the law.

The right-wing Swiss People’s Party is the only party in the federal government that opposes the latest changes to the Covid-19 law. It is the country’s biggest political party and has consistently criticised the Federal Council’s management of the pandemic. It also opposed the Covid-19 law in the November 2021 vote.

What will happen if the law is rejected?

The extension of the Covid-19 law was declared urgent and went into immediate effect after its approval in December. If it is voted against in the June referendum, all of the measures that have been extended will be suspended mid-December 2023. At that point, there will be no existing legal basis for creating or monitoring a Covid certificate or for reactivating the contract-tracing application if a new spike in coronavirus cases occurs.

>> Our explanatory articles on the other two issues that will be voted on in June:

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