What does Italy’s coronavirus lockdown mean for Switzerland and cross-border workers?

What does Italy’s coronavirus lockdown mean for Switzerland and cross-border workers?
Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP
Despite the entire country of Italy being placed on lockdown, Swiss authorities have promised that the border between the two countries will remain open to cross-border workers. Austria on Tuesday closed its border with Italy.

Travelling into and out of northern Italy from Switzerland was continuing by rail and road on Tuesday – despite a government lockdown that was meant to isolate the country in the grip of a coronavirus outbreak.

On Tuesday afternoon however, Ryan Air and British Airways cancelled flights to and from Italy. 

Despite Austria closing its border with Italy on Tuesday morning, Swiss authorities are keeping the border open – awaiting further advice.

The Swiss government has assured cross-border workers – of which there are close to 70,000 – that they will be allowed to cross the border, although they may be subject to checks. 

While several countries have put in place restrictions on travel to Italy, Switzerland has so far decided not to put in a ban – although a recommendations have been made not to travel to Italy. 

The southern Swiss canton of Ticino, which borders Italy, has been the heaviest hit by coronavirus. As at Tuesday morning, March 10th, there were more than 90 confirmed cases. 

Also on Tuesday morning, an 80-year-old man who had lived in a nursing home died in the canton – making him the first victim of the virus in Ticino and the third in Switzerland. 

Travel to Italy

Within Italy, travel is allowed only for compelling reasons such as work or medical need — and for those who had been in other regions of the country temporarily to return home.

READ: 'Stay at home': What are Italy's coronavirus quarantine rules?

Officials promised to set up checkpoints to enforce the measures, which are backed by fines of more than €200 ($230).

The Swiss government has however said it has no plans to close the border. 

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

Border will remain open

In a phone call between Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis on Sunday, the countries promised that the border would not be shuttered and would remain open to cross-border commuters. 

Pursuant to the agreement, all cross-border workers will be able to go across the border without being impeded. The Federal Council however recommended that cross-border workers carry with them their ‘G-Permits’ – which secure their status – at all times. 

There are approximately 70,000 cross-border workers who live in Italy but work in Switzerland. 

An estimated 4,000 of the total 28,000 health care workers in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino live in Italy. 

UPDATE: What you need to know about coronavirus in Switzerland

A spokesperson for Swiss rail authority SBB told news outlet Watson “Passengers from Switzerland can travel to Italy without restrictions. We are going as long as the Italian authorities do not give any other instructions”.

Rail passengers told AFP their identity documents were being checked on arrival to make sure they were residents of Milan.

The Swiss government did however warn Swiss residents not to go to regions in northern Italy affected by the coronavirus. Officials from Austria have also called upon Austrians in Italy to return home. 

Italian authorities have indicated they will carry out border controls to ensure their quarantine measures were respected.

The border also remains open for the movement of goods. 

Travel by air

Ryanair and British Airways cancelled flights to Italy on Tuesday afternoon. 

Airlines including EasyJet and Alitalia were still serving airports in Milan and Venice — the region's two biggest transport hubs — even as all three companies announced fresh cuts to their flight schedules serving northern Italy.

Ryanair had said on Monday it was reducing services in part because many passengers were not turning up for flights they had booked.

But the airline said it wanted to maintain some services to Italy “to bring home” foreigners in Lombardy and other virus-hit regions.

Airlines had already been cutting routes in recent weeks and national carrier Alitalia said it would stop flying from Milan's Malpensa airport. An AFP photographer at Malpensa said the terminal was virtually deserted on Monday morning.

However, domestic flights from the city's Linate airport would continue, Alitalia said.


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