Friday. 30/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Measured approach

It was difficult to get much work done on Wednesday. For the better part of this week we knew that Switzerland’s Federal Council was going to make an announcement about new measures to combat the nation’s steep climb in infection rates (circa 9,500 as of yesterday) but the question was, how strict would they be? A little after midday it was announced that we’d hear from president Simonetta Sommaruga (pictured) at 16.15. We also heard that France would be making an announcement and it was going to be harsh. Ditto Berlin.

At exactly quarter past four the cameras went live in Bern and Sommaruga leaned into the mic. Was this going to be mid-March all over again? It certainly felt like it as we all assembled in front of monitors in Monocle’s Zürich HQ and hung on to her every word. Sommaruga switched between French and German and delivered her opening spiel – within the first three minutes there was a sigh and relaxing of shoulders. No curfew with demands to be indoors by a certain time, no closing of restaurants, no shuttering of classrooms, no major curbs to what we all value as basic freedoms. Yes, restaurants now have to close by 23.00 and perhaps it’s not the time to be a DJ (nightclubs have to shut) but the Federal Council wanted to strike a balance between getting numbers down while also getting national buy-in. We went back to our desks feeling like we had been put on watch but also nodding in agreement that it could have been worse. A few hours later, when measures in France and Berlin were announced, we were feeling truly blessed. Hotels and restaurants closed, remain-at-home rules, no travelling within your own borders – tough weeks ahead for our German and French neighbours.

This week’s papers have been filled with stories about Switzerland’s tightrope act. Is the country doing too much? Is it too little too late? Is it just putting off the inevitable? Will the ski slopes ever reopen? The media has also been peppered with essays and comments about personal responsibility and remembering to enjoy life. Switzerland went further, if not the farthest in Europe with its reopening of dance floors and large events. When the federal councillor for health, Alain Berset, was asked if this was part of the problem, he wasn’t defensive and he didn’t spin any PR waffle. He simply responded that people also need a life.

So here we are – shorter and colder days, windows open, more layers and only four to a table at a restaurant and 10 at home for dinner parties. We also have some of the highest infection rates in the world. Not something to be proud of, for sure, but the ever-pragmatic Swiss have managed to spin this positively with a dollop of common sense thrown in. If the virus is everywhere, what’s the point of having to quarantine when arriving from abroad? Come right on in! Unless of course you’re from a country that has higher rates than Switzerland. And that means if you’re in Prague or Brussels, please stay where you are or face having to isolate on arrival.

Society / France

Tragic escalation

France is once again in mourning after three people were killed by a man wielding a knife at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice. The attack was one of three Islamist-related incidents yesterday; one attacker was shot in Avignon and another was arrested for attacking a guard at a French consulate in Saudi Arabia. It marks another major escalation after President Macron (pictured, visiting Nice yesterday) issued a robust defence of secularism and free speech after the killing of a school teacher who showed his students the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Macron’s words have also prompted boycotts of French products in parts of the Islamic world. Such boycotts are the right of consumers – just as Charlie Hebdo had a right to publish the cartoons. Also notable is that the French Muslim Council yesterday issued a statement calling on Muslims to cancel Mawlid festivities as a sign of solidarity with the victims. Such moderate responses should be highlighted now more than ever.

Elections / USA

Every vote counts

US presidential candidates Donald Trump, Joe Biden and their representatives will be fanning out across the country this weekend for a last-gasp effort to change minds and boost turnout ahead of Tuesday’s election. As of yesterday the US Elections Project, a non-partisan group monitoring votes, found that record early voting and mail-in ballots amounted to more than 57 per cent of the total turnout from 2016. The number of registered Democrats voting has outnumbered Republicans by nearly two to one but Republicans are far more likely to have heeded Trump’s (largely unfounded) warnings that mail-in ballots are fraudulent and plan to vote on 3 November instead. One other wrinkle: nearly 40 million requested mail-in ballots were still outstanding as of yesterday. Recent court cases have prevented some states from counting these ballots if they arrive after the election, even if postmarked before. So, mail-in voters: rush to the post office today.

Urbanism / Singapore

Rules of nature

Singapore took steps to enhance its green credentials this week by announcing sweeping changes to its environmental impact assessment (EIA), a framework used by planners and developers to ensure that their work mitigates its impact on the natural world. While basic EIAs are common in many cities, Singapore’s goes a few steps further: the new measures will improve the transparency of environmental reports, facilitate engagement with nature and conservation groups, and introduce ecology education courses for developers. Despite sitting on just 720 sq km of land, the city-state is home to plenty of rare plants and wildlife, such as the endangered leopard cat; this revision seeks to guarantee their protection. Singapore is already frequently ranked as one of the world’s best cities for sustainable architecture and development. The revised framework gives other cities even more reason to look to “the garden city” for inspiration.

Transport / Portugal

Full steam ahead

It’s been more than 20 years in the making but Portugal’s plan for a high-speed train route connecting its two major cities of Lisbon and Porto is finally back on track. Infrastructure minister Pedro Santos Nunes made the announcement as part of the government’s National Investment Programme 2030, which has allocated €43bn to modernise the country’s rail infrastructure. The much-anticipated high-speed train link will cost about €4.5bn and enable trains to travel at 300km/h, thus more than halving the current travel time between the cities to an hour and 15 minutes. The 10-year plan also includes the creation of more metro and train lines across the country, as well as new international routes connecting Portugal to Spain. The high-speed link was first announced in June 1999 but was derailed due to bureaucratic hurdles and austerity cuts prompted by the 2012 debt crisis. So there are reasons to be sceptical about the latest announcement – but it is a welcome signal that Portugal’s plans are in motion.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Gabriela Hearst

Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst launched her eponymous label in 2015, the same year that she took over her family’s ranch in Paysandú. Her rural, off-the-grid upbringing informs the aesthetic of her functional, timeless clothing and accessories, underscored by an environmentally conscious approach to production and packaging.

Monocle Films / St Moritz

The Chiefs conference 2020

The first edition of The Chiefs, Monocle’s high-altitude summit, took place at Suvretta House in the Swiss Alps over a few sunny days in September. After months of being cooped up at home, guests and panellists alike gathered to be together and exchange ideas. We covered everything from assessing risk in these uncertain times and future-proofing our cities to how to turn things around in hospitality or how to design a safe and friendly workspace.

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