A glance across at Switzerland’s neighbours – particularly France to the west – shows shuttered bars and restaurants, with residents often forced to stay inside other than for a handful of reasons.
Even Germany, which won early plaudits with its management of the pandemic, has gone into a nationwide shutdown for all of November.
Austria has recently followed suit, while people in Italy have been told not to get their hopes up about celebrating Christmas with their families.
In Switzerland however, things remain relatively normal. Bars and restaurants are open, sports are not banned (although numbers are limited), while events with up to 300 people are allowed to take place in some parts of the country.
While masks are now a ubiquitous sight across the country, Switzerland waited three months longer than its neighbours to put in place a mask requirement on public transport – and a full six months before masks were required in indoor areas.
‘The new Sweden’?
Switzerland is now one of the hardest hit countries in Europe when it comes to the pandemic.
According to a report by RTS public broadcaster, which based its findings on data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva and six other French-speaking cantons are ranked among the European regions with the highest number of contaminations per capita: Valais is in the second place, Fribourg in the fourth, Jura in the fifth, Vaud in the seventh, and Neuchâtel in the ninth.
With infections, hospitalisations and deaths on the rise in Switzerland, many have asked if Switzerland’s ‘Sweden-lite’ approach is a wise course of action.
A number of international commentators have said authorities are putting the “economy above health”, reports Switzerland’s Tages Anzeiger.
Germany’s Welt said Switzerland’s “risky” strategy was comparable to that of Sweden.
“Switzerland is the second Swede in corona management,” Welt wrote.
Sweden refused to enter lockdown in the first wave of the pandemic and went on to become one of the hardest hit anywhere in Europe – and particularly in comparison to its neighbours.
Despite sporadic protests, Switzerland's lockdown has been one of the lightest in Europe. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports Switzerland is “flying blind” when it comes to battling the pandemic.
The centre-right paper – which is one of Germany’s most influential – said Switzerland wasted the valuable summer months when testing capacity could have been improved and contact tracing could have been better implemented.
The United States’ Foreign Policy journal went a step further, saying Switzerland is acting as if it is an exception to the norm in a report entitled “Switzerland is choosing austerity over life”.
“Switzerland still has the feeling of being a special case,” it said.
“”The economy is weighted more heavily than saving lives.”
The journal said Switzerland’s famous neutrality had given it a sense of ‘immunity’ to disasters such as wars, terrorist attacks and now the pandemic, with the authors asking what had happened to a country which had been known internationally for good governance.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and Britain’s Financial Times have also criticised Switzerland’s “risky” approach to the pandemic of taking only “mild decisions”.