Closures along Switzerland’s borders – particularly with France, Italy and Germany – have caused havoc for those living along the border, many of whom have been separated from family and friends along the other side.
Pressure has been rising on the Swiss government to relax border controls and restore freedom of movement. As a result, the Swiss government said on Wednesday that it would produce a timetable to show how the country's borders can be reopened.
As yet, the government has given no indication as to when the timeline will be released – or which restrictions would be relaxed first.
On March 25th, Switzerland closed all its borders to everyone except citizens, residents and cross-border permit holders – while also shutting down several border crossings.
On April 16th, the border closures were extended to prohibit cross-border shopping. On May 11th, family reunions will again be permitted – however these were limited in scope.
As reported in the NZZ on Wednesday May 6th, a think tank looking at how to reopen the Swiss economy has called upon authorities to allow all family and work-related crossings to again take place, particular in neighbouring regions which are less affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Currently, unmarried couples and extended families are not able to cross the border to see each other.
Representatives in border regions of France and Germany have written to the Swiss Federal Council to relax these restrictions.
Limited family reunions from May 11th
In an official statement issued by the Swiss Government, the Federal Council said entry restrictions into Switzerland would begin to be lifted.
“For Swiss and EU citizens, family reunification in Switzerland will become possible again from 11 May. Border controls will however remain in place” said the statement.
The statement did not provide any clarification as to whether residence permit holders of EU countries would be allowed to enter Switzerland for the purposes of family reunions, nor did it provide an indication as to the documentation needed to prove that entering Switzerland was being done for the purposes of visiting a family member.
Border control authorities have discretion as to whether they can allow someone to enter, the police confirmed to Swiss tabloid Blick on Thursday.
The police said on Thursday that while this includes spouses, registered partners and children. Justice Department boss Karin Keller-Sutter emphasised during her press conference on Wednesday that visiting grandparents was not included in the scope of the relaxation.
Tourism unlikely in either direction this summer
Relaxation of border controls for tourism in both directions however remain unlikely – even for later in the summer.
Although there are likely to be some relaxations put into place from May 11th, all open Swiss borders will remain monitored and controlled into the future.
Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told Swiss residents that trips abroad this summer “”will probably be possible only to a limited extent or not at all”.
The Department of Justice stated that uncontrolled entry needed to be stopped, whether from tourists, uninvited guests or others who did not fit the entry criteria.
Minister Keller-Sutter said she was coordinating efforts with her Schengen counterparts to ensure that border controls were maintained.