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Boat heading for France: Geneva, Switzerland. Photo credit: Thomas Peham
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Referendum in Switzerland could end government-imposed Covid restrictions

Switzerland will hold a referendum that could stop the government from imposing lockdown measures. The country has not introduced a lockdown like many other European countries, but has instead - like Sweden - mainly emphasized personal responsibility. In terms of the spread of infection and the number of deaths, it is about the same as in Sweden.

Published: January 19, 2021, 1:31 pm

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    Recently, however, the Swiss government introduced tougher measures to stop the spread of infection, leading to an increasingly intense debate on the state’s rights to pursue policies that infringe on personal freedom.

    The organization Friends of the Constitution has collected 86 000 signatures and thus achieved the requirement (50 000) to bring about a referendum, which aims to tear up the government’s Covid-19 law that was introduced last year.

    Switzerland is one of the world’s oldest democracies with far-reaching opportunities for direct democracy. Every year, several referendums are held at national level, and even more at cantonal and local levels.

    The referendum will however not take place until June this year at the earliest the Business Insider reported.

    In Switzerland, stores which sell goods deemed as “non-essential” by the Federal Council had to close their doors on Monday. Thus Swiss residents, unable to buy “non-essential” products in Switzerland, have been heading to France to shop. New Swiss Covid rules are also confusing: Items such as perfumes, cosmetics, kitchen utensils, tableware, envelopes, house plants and flowers, photo equipment, and gardening tools are also classified by the government as essential goods, but light bulbs and electronics are not.

    “Retail tourism” from Switzerland is not a new phenomenon, as prices are cheaper in France, but according to Tribune de Genève (TDG), the new rush across the border is not driven by frugality.

    “I’m looking for snowshoes. Usually, I would have shopped in Switzerland, but now I don’t have a choice”, a customer from Geneva, told the newspaper. “I’m not used to shopping in France. I even had to put my GPS on to find the store because I had never been here before.”

    French retailers expected an even greater number of Swiss customers over the weekend, even though the new French curfew rules do not allow shopping after 6pm. “At the end of the week, we expect the Swiss crush,” one French retailer admitted. And even though France now requires people from outside the EU to present a negative coronavirus test upon entry, Swiss citizens are excluded from this obligation, making a mockery of the imposed confinement.

    And while the Swiss are heading to France to shop, French government officials in the Haute-Savoie have accused private Swiss health clinics of poaching their essential healthcare workers.

    Swiss daily Le Temps headlined the complaint with: “Geneva is pilfering our nurses”. Haute-Savoie’s deputy Martial Saddier said in an interview with the newspaper: “The behaviour of some hospital administrators in Switzerland is totally unacceptable in the context of the health crisis.”

    Private clinics in Geneva have actively been recruiting nursing staff from Haute-Savoie, luring them with salaries at least two and a half times higher than those paid in the French region. Already 60 percent of nursing staff at Geneva’s university hospitals (HUG) live in France — but Saddier said such recruitment should not happen during the pandemic.

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    • LuciusAnnaeusSeneca

      Of all European countries, the Swiss are historically among the most responsible and civic-minded. They don’t need government edicts to tell them what to do and not to do, that assumes a total lack of information and common sense on the part of its citizens and tells them what to do and not to do. The Swiss are certainly up in arms about government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, and rightly so. One size does not fit all throughout the country and its cantons. And the latter should have a say in restrictions, and what is open and what is closed. Good luck to the proponents of the referendum!

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