Swiss public urged to keep pandemic in check to avoid lockdown

The Swiss authorities have to balance pandemic prevention measures with the rights of individuals and businesses. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

The rapid rise in coronavirus cases has put Switzerland in a precarious situation, said Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga. But there are, for the time being, no concrete plans to tighten measures to control the pandemic, including restrictions like those in place earlier this year.

This content was published on October 15, 2020 - 12:47

On Thursday, the number of new daily Covid-19 infections exceeded 2,000 for the second day in a row. The number of new infections reported on Wednesday was 2,823 – double the number recorded the previous day.

Sommaruga, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, called on the population to redouble efforts to observe hygiene and social distancing measures.

“The number of infections is increasing sharply within a short period of time,” she said at a press conference on Thursday following discussions between the government and cantonal authorities. “It is once again shortly before 12 O’Clock. We call on the whole population to do their bit so we can keep the virus in check.”

Sommaruga’s remarks come as canton Zurich announced that teachers will be obliged to wear masks while teaching. In canton Nidwalden, some 400 people have been quarantined after an infected person visited two nightclubs. It has also been reported that 73 children accompanying adults at a scout camp were infected earlier this month.

On Thursday, Germany added eight Swiss cantons to the two already on its "risk area" listExternal link. People arriving in Germany from these cantons may be obliged to quarantine for 14 days depending on the German state they arrive at.

Balancing act with cantons

The federal government, cantons and business groups are working together to find ways to stem the second Covid-19 wave while balancing personal freedoms and potential damage to the economy. The representatives of the federal government and cantons were at pains to point out harmony in their joint efforts to contain the pandemic.

Lukas Engelberger, president of the Conference of Cantonal Health Directors, said the impact of the rising coronavirus cases on hospitals will not be known for a couple weeks. He warned that the compulsory wearing of face masks may have to be needed.

Health Minister Alain Berset will meet with cantonal health representatives on Friday to discuss possible further measures. “We still have the situation under control and our goal is to avoid a lockdown and overloading hospitals. We're worried about this because it's only the beginning of October.”

He added that cantons are still free to allow mass events of more than 1,000 people if they deem the local situation and the event safety measures to be reasonable.

The government and cantons are also talking about stepping up testing across the country. Asked about the possibility of rapid, high volume new testing techniques, Berset said that these innovations are still being appraised before they can be released.

Urban Camenzind, Vice President of the Conference of Cantonal Economic Directors, said that some cantons had experienced a 10% drop in economic output after the partial lockdown in March closed shops, restaurants, construction sites and other businesses. He said that future closures should be avoided.

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