Why are some restaurants in Switzerland re-opening despite the shutdown?

A number of restaurant owners in Switzerland are resuming their activities on Monday, January 11th, in violation of current coronavirus restrictions.

Why are some restaurants in Switzerland re-opening despite the shutdown?
Some restaurants will break the rules and open on Monday. Photo by AFP

Fed up with having to close their doors on December 22nd and keep them shuttered until the end of February, dozens of restaurant and bar owners across Switzerland, along with other business proprietors, are vowing to resume their activities on Monday.

They say they are defying the federal restrictions in order to survive.

“I have to do something, otherwise my family will soon have nothing more to eat,” a café owner from Basel told 20 Minuten. 

“I am the sole breadwinner and have to support a family of six”, she added.

Another restauranteur, Sascha Rettenmund, owner of Gentil’s Bar in Selznach, canton Solothurn, also said he would re-open his business because “soon I won't have anything to eat”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Switzerland to close all restaurants amid new move to stem Covid-19 surge 

These and others who are resuming their activities on Monday are part of #wirmachenauf movement, which started in Germany. In English it means “we open up”.

“We have implemented all the measures that were imposed on us and for many months we were ready to endure a serious drop in sales out of solidarity and to protect our fellow human beings”, the Swiss restauranteurs say on the site. 

Those who defy the federal ban and open on Monday risk hefty fines.

Legal expert Philipp Vonrüti said tradespeople who open their shops could be slapped with fines of up to 10,000 francs.

“This is the maximum amount currently set for breaking the Covid ordinance”, he said.

Prison sentence of up to five years could also be given “if someone spreads a dangerous communicable disease”, he added.

However, possible sanctions are not dissuading those already committed to opening on Monday.

“I have nothing more to lose”, the Basel café owner said, adding that she would “take legal action against any fines”.

The Federal Council has earmarked 2.5 billion francs to help businesses most affected by closings. However, often no money is paid out because the examination of the applications is a slow process.

Industry federation GastroSuisse warned on Sunday that without significant financial support, around half of businesses in the restauration and hospitality sector could go belly-up by the end of March. 

The group polled around 4,000 restaurant and hotel owners, and determined that 98 percent of them already are in urgent need of financial support.

“The very existence of many of them is threatened,” GastroSuisse president Casimir Platzer said.

READ MORE: Half of Swiss hotels, restaurants risk bankruptcy: employer group 



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REACTION: What do the Swiss think about the extended shutdown?

While some in Switzerland praised the government’s decision not to re-open restaurants on March 22nd, others expressed disappointment at extended closures.

REACTION: What do the Swiss think about the extended shutdown?
Restaurantds will remain shut for the time being. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Many in Switzerland were hoping restaurants would re-open on Monday, but the government decided to extend the closure until at least April 14th

“We must unfortunately continue to be patient”, Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Friday, adding that “we are simply trying to ensure we do not lose control”.

He pointed out that most neighbouring European countries were adding restrictions, not lifting them, “which is something we are trying to avoid.”

READ MORE: Switzerland to extend measures to fight Covid-19 ‘third wave’

The decision strongest sparked criticism from business associations.

“The disappointment of the hotel and restaurant industry is immense”, the sector’s umbrella group, Gastrosuisse, said in a statement.

“We hope that the Federal Council will finally adopt a reasonable approach to the pandemic. Otherwise, the restaurants probably won’t open at all”, said the group’s president, Casimir Platzer. 

That’s because “one in five establishments has already had to close its doors. And an additional 20 percent in the hotel and restaurant industry are about to do so”, he added. 

The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Directors of Health also disagrees with the government’s reluctance to fully re-open the economy.

“We regret that the Federal Council is easing much more cautiously than requested by many cantons,” the organisation said.

It particularly criticises the decision not to lift the home work obligation, or at least “the transition from the obligation to work at home to a recommendation to work at home”.

The association of business groups, Economiesuisse, partly understands the government’s decision, but also “regrets the maintenance of the obligation to work from home and the failure to open restaurant terraces”.

“Switzerland is paying the price for the delay in implementing a coherent screening strategy and in acquiring vaccines,” the group said.

Most political parties object to the decision as well.

For the Swiss People’s Party, “it is a slap in the face of the population, traders and businesses”.

Die Mitte / Le Centre Party “regrets that the Federal Council assesses the epidemiological situation, despite the change in strategy towards more screening and vaccination”.

As for the Liberal Party, “unfortunately, it appears that the Federal Council is not prepared to give real prospects to the population and to businesses”, it said in a press release. 

However, Liberal Greens praised the decision, saying “the Federal Council is showing firmness and responsibility”.

The Travail.Suisse trade union also considers the Federal Council’s decision “understandable, given the figures which have been on the rise in recent days. It is about remaining cautious”.

One government decision that is supported across the board is that 10 people are now allowed to gather together in private, up from five previously.

“It’s at least a little glimmer of hope as Easter approaches”, said Gerhard Pfister,  president of Die Mitte/ Le Centre Party.

READ MORE: Covid-19: What’s the outlook for Easter weekend in Switzerland?