Coronavirus measures spark war of words between Switzerland and France

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.

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

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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MAPS: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

Basel is one of Europe's best cities for finding work, which is perhaps why it's so expensive. One option is commuting. Here's what you need to know.

A quiet square in the centre of Basel, Switzerland
Commuting is a great way to save money in Basel. Here's what you need to know. Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Basel is one of Switzerland’s economic powerhouse cities, which can be a blessing and a curse. 

A consequence of Basel’s strong job market and economic power is that the city has become an incredibly expensive place to live, with rents outstripping those of many other parts of the country. 

One option however is commuting. With Switzerland’s relatively small size and strong public transport infrastructure – not to mention roads and motorways – one option is to live in some of the cities and towns surrounding Basel and commute into the city for work. 

Colourful houses on a beautiful street in Basel

Colourful houses on a beautiful street in Basel. Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Commuting from surrounding towns and villages is popular in Basel, with tens of thousands commuting from Switzerland, Germany and France daily. 

The impact of the pandemic – with businesses often encouraging their employees to work from home – has only served to encourage the popularity of moving away from the city. 

Besides lower rent or housing costs, living away from Basel also usually means you are able to have a bit more space and can enjoy the Swiss countryside, which is especially popular for families. 

From cross-border commuting to finding places to live in Switzerland, here are some of the best options when it comes to commuting to work in Basel. 

Don’t live in Basel? Here are our summaries on commuting in Zurich and Geneva. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

Commuting to Basel

Basel City is Switzerland’s smallest canton by square kilometres, which means that crossing cantonal borders is even more likely. 

Living in the neighbouring canton of Basel Country is a popular option, as is living further afield. 

One such option is Switzerland’s best-known commuter town – Olten – which is not only situated 30 minutes from Basel on a public transport hub, but is also the same distance from Zurich, Bern and several other important Swiss cities. 

Another option is cross-border commuting, with Basel sharing a border with France and Germany. 

An estimated 37,000 people cross the border to work in Basel every day from either of those two countries, making it one of Switzerland’s most popular cross-border worker hubs. 

The following map shows how popular commuting is as a whole in Switzerland, although as it’s been put together by the Swiss government, only Swiss locations have been included. 

As can be seen by the size of the circle, Basel is one of the major commuter locations. 

Major commuter locations in Switzerland

Major commuter locations in Switzerland. Image: Federal Office of Statistics.

One further advantage of living in either France or Germany can be lower costs of living – particularly regarding rents and groceries etc – although if you pay tax in either of these countries, it is likely to be higher. 

Finally, Swiss workplaces are relatively supportive of commuting and cross-border working, at least in part because they have no choice. This means that work and social events are often organised in a fashion which takes commuters into account. 

READ MORE: Can I rent my apartment on Airbnb in Basel and what are the rules?

One thing to keep in mind – and which is a continual gripe of many Local readers – is traffic in Basel, which has been rated by readers as everything from “shocking” to “terrible”.

Basel remains a small, picturesque city with a central old town but it has experienced dramatic economic growth, meaning that it can struggle in peak times. Therefore, when picking a location, have public transport in mind. 

St Louis 

Not just a fun sign to take a picture of for homesick Americans, St Louis is a popular commuter town located in France. 

Located just eight minutes from Basel, St Louis has a population of around 20,000 – many of whom work in Basel and cross the border daily. 

The close proximity and the high proportion of cross-border workers means there are around 50 trains per day from St Louis to Basel, with the same number going back. 

Standard apartments in St Louis will cost anywhere from €700 to €1,500 per month, with more space and rooms for your buck than in Basel. 

Unlike some of the Swiss towns mentioned above however, St Louis does not have an English or international school. There are however some private options in relative close proximity. 

As a slight extra bonus, it must be a nice feeling to know you can scream “Hellooooo St Louis!” when you get home from work in the evening, every evening, although be aware that this joke has a tendency to get old. 


Around an hour from Basel is the French village of Colmar, located in the Alsace region of France. There are also a handful of faster train services which take around 45 minutes.

There are approximately 60 trains going to and from Basel each day. 

Besides being close to St Louis, Colmar is incredibly beautiful and peaceful, with its thatched timber houses giving it the nickname Little Venice. 

It’s a little bigger than St Louis, with roughly 70,000 residents. A consequence of that is a better gastronomical scene which showcases the best of French cooking, along with additional cultural options. 

Colmar offers some incredibly cost effective options for rentals, with dozens of three-room apartments under €1,000 per month. 

Like St Louis, there is currently no international school option in Colmar, so you may have to send your kids to international schools in Basel unless you want to put them in private schooling in France. 

The beautiful French village of Colmar is less than an hour from Basel

The beautiful French village of Colmar is less than an hour from Basel. Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay


Right on the Swiss border is the German town of Lörrach, which is an obvious favourite for Basel commuters. An estimated 21,000 people commute from the region of Lörrach to Switzerland daily, 5,200 who come from the town itself. 

While around a quarter of Lörrach residents commute to Switzerland for work, this rises to 36 percent in Inzlingen

Travelling from Lörrach to Basel takes around 20 minutes via car (traffic pending), 30 minutes via public transport or 35 minutes if you decide to cycle. 

While taxes are higher in Germany, residents of Lörrach and the surrounds report better child care services, easier access to schools and cheaper supermarkets, restaurants etc. 

Renting is also cheaper, with apartments averaging between €900 to €1,500 per month. 

One thing to keep in mind however is that some municipalities in the region have taken action against cross-border commuters due to fear of rising rents, putting in place restrictions on who can live there. 

Many of these are in practice difficult to enforce, but it’s worth keeping in mind before you move. 


While cross-border commuting is incredibly popular in Basel, there are also several options in Switzerland worth considering. 

Liesthal, located in the neighbouring canton of Basel Country, is ten minutes from Basel on the fast train. 

Rents in Liesthal are much cheaper than Basel, although it is still Switzerland so rents – and other costs of living – are likely to be much higher than in Germany or France. 

Prices for studios and one-room apartments are around the CHF1,000 mark, while a three-bedroom place will set you back 1,600CHF per month. 

A study done way back in 2000 showed that around one third of Liesthal residents commuted outside the town for work, although note that this was done 20 years ago and there is no specific indication of how many of those people went to Basel. 


No discussion of commuting in Switzerland would be complete without a mention of Olten, Switzerland’s true commuter city. 

Olten is located within half an hour of Zurich, Bern, Basel and Luzern. As a central rail hub and with rents far lower than each of those cities, it has cemented itself as Switzerland’s true commuter town.

The town’s official Twitter biography boasts of “friendly and uncomplicated residents” living in a city which is “often undervalued” as a place to live and work. 

A sign which says “clever commuters live in Olten”. Image: Olten City

The town brags that 80 percent of Switzerland is less than an hour away. 

Rents in Olten are roughly the same as the Swiss average, or around CHF1,330 for a two-to-three bedroom apartment, much cheaper than in Basel.

Although the figures are a decade old, around one third of the workers who live in the canton commute to work.

Olten’s status as a true commuter location is so established that we’ve written an entire article focused on it. Click the following link to find out more.

Everything you need to know about Olten: Switzerland’s commuter city