Coronavirus measures spark war of words between Switzerland and France

Coronavirus measures spark war of words between Switzerland and France
Tens of thousands of French workers commute to Geneva daily. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
A French politician has accused Switzerland of putting the health of cross-border workers in peril because of “laxist” confinement measures. Swiss officials responded claiming the “rant” is baseless.

Loïc Hervé, a deputy from the Haute-Savoie region of France, which borders Geneva, has written a letter to Geneva cantonal officials, complaining that they should be implementing stricter measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

“France is confined, Haute-Savoie as well. Switzerland, for its part, calls for partial confinement, with movements which remain authorised. I have the impression that what we do here is useless if Switzerland does not follow, if our neighbours do not apply the same measures as ours”, Hervé wrote.

He added that “tens of thousands of cross-border commuters travel to Switzerland every day to work. So there needs to be a coherent policy”.

An estimated 85,000 French citizens are employed in Geneva. At Geneva's University Hospital (HUG), for instance, 60 percent of personnel comes from France. 

While France is under a total lockdown, Swiss restrictions, put into place on March 16th, are less stringent. The government closed all schools, most border crossings, shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities, and banned gatherings of more than five people. But people are not prevented from going outdoors if distancing measures are respected.

Asked by Le Temps newspaper what response he received from Swiss officials, Hervé said that “some people made me understand that their country is sovereign and that I should only be involved in what is happening in France”.

READ MORE: Swiss president: Older people won’t be confined indefinitely


Although Hervé’s letter was written in March, he received an official reply last week from Antonio Hodgers, the president of Geneva’s parliament. Hodgers said he could not answer earlier as he was preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis.

He told RTS television that his response “focused not so much on health issues at hand, but on cultural differences between Swiss and French political systems”.

“In a country where civic responsibility and confidence in the system are high, isn't it normal to think that the vast majority of the population is capable of applying sanitary rules by themselves in public space? he wrote.

He also noted that Swiss authorities believe that the only way to slow down the spread of the virus “is for everyone to understand the health rules. That the support of the population is a much more effective tool than all the police forces, which have other issues to deal with. Until proven otherwise, this does not justify widespread control”.

Hodgers added that the discrepancy between the way the two countries handle the pandemic “arises more from a different conception of the role of their governments than from a real divergence in our health policies.”

But there has also been cooperation between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Swiss hospitals have taken in 30 coronavirus patients from France, especially from Franche-Comté and Grand Est regions, whose medical facilities are saturated. 

Brigitte Klinkert, president of France’s Haut-Rhin department told swissinfo that, faced with overcrowding in area hospitals, she contacted medical centres in the neighbouring Swiss regions of Basel and Jura, asking for help.  

“That evening, the authorities from these cantons called me, very moved, and said they were making beds available to several French patients”, she said.

“Swiss solidarity touches me enormously”, she added.

French Ambassador to Switzerland, Frédéric Journès, also thanked the Swiss for their help, saying that the country “did something good”. 

“By helping France as it did, Switzerland has taken on much more than its share”, he added. 

 

 


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