Bern notice: Swiss region to again vote on changing cantons

The Bernese region of Moutier will hold another vote on switching cantons. A previous vote, from June 2017, was held invalid.

Bern notice: Swiss region to again vote on changing cantons
A woman with tape on her face in a protest in the Swiss region of Moutier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The vote is set to take place on March 28th, 2021. 

If successful, the region will switch from the German-speaking canton of Bern to the French-speaking canton of Jura. 

The French-speaking Moutier has long been frustrated with its presence in the German-speaking canton of Bern. 

Described on social media as Mouxit or Mouti-exit – referencing Britain’s Brexit decision to leave the European Union – tensions have been simmering ever since the Administrative Court in Bern declared a successful 2017 separatist vote invalid. 

The 2017 vote

Voters celebrated in 2017 after they decided by a narrow margin of 137 votes to leave Bern and join Jura. A total of approximately 4,000 citizens took part in the ballot. 

READ: Why the small Swiss town of Moutier is making headlines (again)

As reported by The Local in August 2019, the court invalidated the vote due to a number of concerns with its legitimacy. The court found evidence of ‘electoral tourism’ – i.e. that non-residents had voted in the election – as well as vote rigging. 

Another major reason for the declaration was the intimate involvement of Moutier’s mayor Marcel Winistoerfer in the campaign. Mayors and other public officials are required by law to remain neutral on such issues. 

No appeal to the court’s decision

Winistoerfer told Swiss newspaper Le Temps that there will be no appeal launched against the findings of the court. 

The “individual appellants to the Administrative Court have announced that we will refrain from bringing an action before the Federal Court”, Winistoerfer said. 

Winistoerfer and other Moutier separatists pointed out the delays associated with a court appeal – the last avenue of appeal is the federal court – were likely to be too long. 

Instead, a new vote will be held in March 2021 – this time without the irregularities that hampered the 2017 version. 

Separatist movements have also been seen in other parts of Bern, including Sorvillier and Belprahon, although residents in these two villages voted to stay. 



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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.