Switzerland announced on Friday that all shops, bars and restaurants must close from 19:00 to fight a reviving coronavirus that is now arousing political and cultural tensions.
The alpine country, which will apply the new rules from Saturday to January 22, has some of the worst levels of infection per capita in Europe and the government fears the situation could spiral out of control over Christmas.
“We are witnessing an exponential increase,” said President Simonetta Sommaruga at a news conference in the capital, Bern. “Our hospitals and our health workers are stretched to the limit.”
In March, during the first wave of infections, Switzerland was not as badly affected by the death of Covid-19 and did not impose a lockdown as strictly as some other European states.
It facilitated these measures in stages, and many praised the Swiss handling of the crisis, emphasizing individual responsibility.
But relations between Switzerland’s linguistic groups have broken out and the government’s response has come under fire since a new wave struck in the past three months.
“Originally it was a health crisis,” Pierre Ruetschi, head of the Swiss press club, wrote in the Tribune de Geneve newspaper. “It became economic very quickly. It is normal. Now it is also cultural, linguistic, political.”
From just three new cases registered on June 1, infections rose slowly but steadily before shooting in October, when cases, hospital stays and deaths began to double from week to week.
The second wave initially hit the French-speaking West and the Italian-speaking South the hardest.
With the government handing over the reins to the regional authorities, these cantons introduced measures to control the virus.
The burden of the virus was then shifted to the German-speaking majority – and cantons who were in no hurry to act despite the government’s repeated remarks.
Many in the Francophone cantons, who began to reduce their restrictions, feel that they are now paying the price for lack of action in the German-speaking areas.
With his resignation and step into the approach, the “Federal Council has created real chaos”, Marco Chiesa, leader of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party – the largest in the lower house of parliament – told the public broadcaster RTS.
With a population of 8.6 million, Switzerland logs about 5,000 new cases and 100 deaths a day – a health minister Alain Berset said it was far too high to begin with if infections start to double again.
Nevertheless, the new measures are not as strict as in other European countries.
The regions that have more control over the virus can extend the closing time to 23:00, if conditions allow.
All regions can extend it until 01.00 on the nights of 24 and 31 December.
About 372,329 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Switzerland, while 5,378 have died since the first outbreak.