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Coronavirus in Italy: Should Switzerland close its southern border?

The Local
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Coronavirus in Italy: Should Switzerland close its southern border?

The first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Switzerland. Right-wing politicians have agitated for additional border controls - and even closing the border - as a result.


The coronavirus has spread throughout northern Italy, with hundreds of confirmed cases and a mounting death toll in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto - both of which sit just below the Swiss border. 

READ: France vows to keep border open despite coronavirus spread

Right-wing politicians in Switzerland have said there is an urgent need to screen arrivals on the country’s southern border - and in particular in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino. 

Critics however have hit back, arguing that such a move would not only have devastating economic consequences, but that it would hamper the region’s ability to tackle the crisis. 

Of the 70,000 cross-border workers who commute into Ticino daily from Italy, around 4,000 work in the healthcare sector - including at least 120 doctors. 

‘An end to the free movement of persons’

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has said the spread of the coronavirus from northern Italy into Switzerland highlights the problem with open borders, saying that additional checks should be put in place. 

On Monday, the SVP’s Christoph Mörgeli tweeted that the spread of the virus highlights the need for ending the free movement of persons from neighbouring European countries.

Mörgeli urged the public to support the SVP’s initiative on the matter which will be voted on in May. 

“130 people in northern Italy are infected with the Corona virus. 70,000 northern Italians commute to Switzerland every day. The free movement of people is wrong. Now even more so: yes to the limitation initiative!”



READ: What you need to know about Switzerland’s May referenda

The SVP has suggested putting in place temperature screening equipment, with authorities then sending back anyone who was warmer than a set amount. 

While Austria had suspended train travel on its southern border, Switzerland as yet has not put in place any controls. 

‘Do not close the borders’

Michael Ryan, emergency chief at the World Health Organisation, said that working together to handle the threat was a more effective means of tackling the spread than closing borders across the continent. 

“Do not close the borders”, Ryan said. 

With the virus already present in Switzerland, it appears that putting in place border controls would have little effect. 

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health said on Wednesday that the spread of the virus would not be stopped by closing the borders, while the body also said travelling to Ticino remained safe. 

Around 70,000 workers commute from Italy into southern Switzerland to work on a daily basis, 4,000 of whom are estimated to work in the health sector - including 120 doctors. 

Approximately one fifth of the nursing staff in Ticino are cross-border workers. 

READ: Five things you should know if you're a cross-border worker in Switzerland

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The SVP has been criticised in Swiss media for using the outbreak of the virus for political purposes, with Swiss daily Watson writing that the party is trying to “profit from the (coronavirus) situation”.



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