“The situation is critical,” said Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset at a press conference on the pandemic in the middle of this week. The Social Democrat was referring to the rapid increase in new corona infections in the Confederation, which is reflected in an even higher seven-day incidence than in Germany. On Friday the value was 502 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week.
Nevertheless, the government in Bern does not feel compelled to tighten the measures in the fight against the virus. “The decisive criterion is the occupancy of the intensive care units,” Berset justified the laissez-faire. So far, the intensive care units are only 75 percent full and 20 percent are occupied by Covid 19 patients. That does not justify any additional national measures. Heavily affected cantons, in which normal operations have to be postponed because of corona patients, could pull the reins on their own.
The government does not want to know anything about a change from 3G to 2G or even a general compulsory vaccination, although in Switzerland, as in Austria, only 65 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated so far. “We accept that not everyone wants to be vaccinated and that many unvaccinated people will become infected,” said Berset.
The broad camp of opponents
The national-conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) suspects that the government is deliberately holding back in order not to further heat the mood against the Covid-19 law, which the Swiss are voting on this Sunday. The opponents of this law, in which the measures decided by the government and parliament to combat the pandemic and to cushion the economic damage, have been attacking the bill for months.
In a first referendum vote in June, at least 40 percent voted against the law. The second vote this Sunday is about changes that were added later, including the use of the Covid-19 certificate and contact tracking. Newly founded associations such as the “Action Alliance for Urkantons”, the “Friends of the Constitution” and “Mass-Voll” reject the certificate because it discriminates against the unvaccinated and divides society.
The broad camp of opponents includes corona skeptics, libertarians, self-proclaimed freedom fighters, nature lads who are supposedly invulnerable in their health, esotericists who are anti-science and left-wing critics who demonize the certificate as an instrument of state surveillance. All sorts of conspiracy myths circulate in these circles, including the one that the vote is being manipulated in favor of the state.
Right SVP mobilizes against the law
The SVP is the only party to rail against the law and thus against the policy of the multi-party government, in which two of its own representatives sit, including Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, who has openly shown sympathy for opponents of vaccinations and measures. The supporters of the SVP, the strongest party in the country with a share of 26 percent of the vote, are among the biggest objections to vaccination. In the cities as well as in French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland, however, surveys indicate relatively high approval ratings for the Covid-19 law.
Most of the opponents of the law are in the more conservative rural cantons of Eastern and Central Switzerland. The vaccination rates are also the lowest there. In these regions people are strongly attached to the myths of the freedom-loving confederates who do not want anything to be imposed on them by a distant power – in this case “Bern”. The decision by the municipality of Alpthal in the canton of Schwyz not to allow the vaccination bus sent into the village as part of the national vaccination week was an example of this attitude.
Against this background, the government is currently maneuvering and failing to tighten the measures in the fight against Corona – although the scientific Swiss National Covid-19 Taskforce, based on the current infection dynamics, expects the epidemiological situation in Switzerland to be similar by mid-December will be like it is already in Austria.
The only difference in the epidemiological development of the two countries is that Austria started the latest wave of infection at a higher level than Switzerland. In order to protect the hospitals, the increase in the number of cases must be slowed down immediately, warned Taskforce President Tanja Stadler. Otherwise there was a risk of losses in the quality of treatment in the intensive care units and triages. The main thing now is to reduce the number of contacts.
The government did register these warnings. Nevertheless, she is sticking to her mild course. Berset only asked the population to take the well-known measures: wearing masks, keeping your distance, washing hands, testing, vaccinating. One tries to find the optimum between the protection of the health and the maintenance of the social life, said the health minister. At the same time he admitted: “Of course, this strategy also involves risks.”
As early as next week, after the vote on the Covid-19 law, this strategy could be out of date. The cantons, who otherwise like to insist on their independence, are already calling loudly for uniform tightening for the whole country. “Sometimes I have the feeling that the Federal Council sees a cantonal virus in front of it,” said Guido Graf, Health Director of the Canton of Lucerne. The dispute is fatally reminiscent of autumn 2020, when the federal government and the cantons gave each other the buck for errors and omissions in fighting the pandemic that cost many people their lives.
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