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.