Emergency funds for Covid crisis to be scaled up

Three government ministers meeting outside the press conference room. Finance Minister Maurer, Economics Minister Parmelin and Defence and Sports Minister Amherd (from right to left). Keystone/Anthony Anex

The Swiss government plans to increase its contribution to an emergency fund for companies hard hit by the Covid-19 restrictions and boost aid to sports clubs.

This content was published on November 18, 2020 - 16:51

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said the government was willing to pay up to CHF680 million ($745 million) towards exceptional hardship cases. Under the proposal, to be discussed by parliament next month, the cantonal authorities would add CHF320 million.

Maurer said the compromise was a typical “federalist solution” and primarily aimed at providing financial support, notably for export-oriented businesses.

“The situation won’t simply go back to normal in spring. The crisis is likely to have lasting consequences,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.

But he said the government didn’t expect a liquidity bottleneck in the immediate future to hit business.

Two weeks ago, Maurer hinted that the government would be prepared to increase its share to the fund from currently CHF200 million if the 26 cantons play their part in the next few years.

The government also agreed to extend the short-time working compensation and unemployment benefits. A bill to parliament foresees financial support for employees with fixed-term contracts, including apprentices.

“The aim is to avoid job cuts,” said Economics Minister Guy Parmelin. “The government will monitor the situation and adapt the measures if necessary,” he pledged.

He rejected criticism that the new measures were late. “It’s much more than just a symbolic gesture,” he said, adding that the government earlier this year spent billions of francs for a loan programme to ensure liquidity for struggling companies as well as for unemployment aid.

Sports salaries

As part of the financial aid package, the government also decided to grant CHF115 million in aid to the country’s football and ice-hockey clubs. The money is part of a special package worth CHF175 million.

Sports Minister Viola Amherd said the non-repayable funds should help the top-flight clubs to compensate for the shortfall in ticket sales as the government imposed a limit of 50 spectators as of the end of last month to contain the spread of the Covid pandemic.

“The existence of several clubs is at risk,” Amherd said. “But sports have an important role in society, notably for young people and for integration, and they are an economic factor accounting for around 100,000 jobs.”

The aid is dependent on full transparency over player salaries. Those earning more than CHF148,000 annually have to agree to a 20% wage cut.

She said an earlier loan programme was not sufficient for the clubs to survive.

Army medical forces

The government has also approved the deployment of members of the armed forces and of the civil protection services to help out in hospitals and old people’s homes.

The mandates for up to 2,000 member of the medical corps and a maximum of 500,000 work days for civil protection staff are due to run out at the end of next March.

The military and civilian service members are to assist in healthcare and transport as well as for contact tracing of Covid infections and testing.

During the first phase of the pandemic in March, the government gave the green light to call up a maximum of 8,000 militia army members to help hospital staff and border guards. But critics have argued the government overreacted, sending too many soldiers.

Parliament is due to consider the mandate for the armed forces during its winter session next month.

The government decision comes in response to calls by several cantons warning that health personnel are struggling to cope with the high number of Covid patients and with infected staff reporting sick.

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