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HEALTH

How restaurants could reopen by March 1st in Switzerland

Federal authorities have ruled out opening restaurants before April 1st, but if a new coalition of disgruntled cantons has its way, the Swiss could be dining in by the start of March.

How restaurants could reopen by March 1st in Switzerland
Could restaurants open again in March in Switzerland? Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Please note: Switzerland announced Wednesday that shops, museums and zoos can reopen from March 1, while restaurants can open from March 22nd. Click here for more information. 

Although the Federal Council ordered restaurants to remain closed until April 1st at the earliest, several cantons are pushing to allow their restaurants to resume business earlier.

Several cantons have expressed a desire to re-open in March, including Geneva, Vaud, Graubünden, St. Gallen, Ticino, Thurgau, Lucerne, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Nidwalden, Uri and Obwalden. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s new ‘relaxed’ coronavirus measures? 

In addition to the efforts at cantonal level, a concerted push by a group of right-wing and centre-right Swiss political parties could see opening dates brought forward in Switzerland. 

A new set of negotiations is now taking place, with a decision to be made on February 24th which could see the Swiss return to restaurants sooner rather than later. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Cantons revolt in push for March openings

Immediately after Swiss health authorities announced hospitality venues would remain closed until at least April, a group of cantons gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the decision – and to push for an earlier opening of hospitality venues. 

Last week authorities in Vaud announced their wish to reopen their gastronomy sector from March 15th for lunch service and close at 6pm, at which time only take-away service would be allowed, Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper reports

St Gallen, Thurgau, Lucerne and Ticino are agitating for restaurants with terraces to be allowed to open from March 1st. 

Schwyz authorities have called for both the inside and outside of restaurants and bars to be open on the same day. 

Uri, Glarus, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden have also called for restaurants to be open in the first week of March, with the latter saying people should only be allowed to attend with evidence of a negative test. 

This scheme matches that being implemented in neighbouring Austria for hairdressers, cosmetic services and tattoo parlours. 

Others such as Zurich and Bern seem open to the idea but have not expressed a defined position on the matter. 

Indeed, as at February 24th, only Aargau has indicated it supports the federal government’s plan. 

The Federal Council is scheduled to discuss the issue with cantonal governments on February 24th, but Health Minister Alain Berset already said that early re-openings would not be a good idea.

Berset recalled that last fall restaurants were open in some cantons while closed in others, resulting in people traveling from one canton to another for the purpose of dining out.  

Another revolt – this time at a federal level

While cantonal opposition to federal measures is nothing new, the government is also facing a challenge at a federal level. 

A coalition made up of the Swiss People’s Party, Free Democratic Party and Die Mitte is seeking to wrest control from the federal government in pushing for opening of restaurants – along with bars, cultural facilities, sporting facilities and events – from March 22nd, the first day of Spring. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper reports that the right-wing and centre-right coalition appears to have the numbers to gain control of the National Council’s Health Commission – a key decision-making body with power to decide on lockdowns. 

The NZZ reports that if the power grab is successful, bars and restaurants may be allowed to open as early as February 25th – one day after the meeting between federal and cantonal authorities – although such an outcome is unlikely, with the Federal Council likely to use its emergency powers to prevent it. 

The more likely outcome is that the coalition push for a nationwide opening on March 22nd. 

Member comments

  1. They should get the vaccinations going…what is the lag in getting this done then there would not be such a question about opening restaurant! Do the not have any vaccines here….we are not a 3rd world country.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating blood?

For many years, people coming from the United Kingdom were banned from donating their blood in Switzerland. This is what the situation is right now.

Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating blood?

The ‘blood ban’ that extended to British citizens or those of any nationality who had lived in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), was implemented for safety purposes.

The reason was the so-called mad cow disease (BSE), which was particularly rampant in Great Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many people contracted and even died from the cattle-borne condition known scientifically as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

It is believed that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of the disease. 

While most of them got BSE from eating contaminated beef, “experience tells us that the disease could be transmitted from human to human via blood”, according to a BBC report.

As a result, a number of governments, including the Swiss, prohibited people from the UK to donate blood.

However, this rule is no longer in force in Switzerland.

According to Geneva’s university hospital (HUG), which is a member of the national blood transfusion network Blutspende and follows the same rules, only people who had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 for more than six months at a stretch still can’t donate blood.

This is a period when the BSE outbreak was at its worst in the UK.

If you had lived in Great Britain prior to or after that date, you can safely donate your blood.

Have there been any BSE cases in Switzerland?

About 465 cases had been reported in Switzerland between 1990 and 2020, with less than 20 deaths.

There are still isolated cases of BSE throughout Europe, but they are no longer a cause for as much concern as previously.

Can everyone donate blood in Switzerland?

Gay men are still not allowed to do so.

Under Swiss law, any man who has had sex with another man is prevented from donating blood for 12 months — the legislation was introduced during the the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, while the 12-month rule was introduced in 2017.

However, in March 2020, the National Council’s Commission for Social Security and Health said the rule was “no longer appropriate” and filed a motion to rescind it. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to clear way for gay and bisexual men to donate blood

Who else is prevented from donating blood?

According to Blutspende, these medical and other conditions disqualify people from donating blood in Switzerland:

  • Positive test for HIV (AIDS), syphilis, hepatitis C and hepatitis B
  • Prostitution
  • Past or present drug use by injection
  • Blood transfusion after 01.01.1980

These reasons could be a cause for deferral though not an outright ban:

  • Stay during the past six months in a region where malaria is endemic, without any health problem (in case of illness with fever, tell the doctor at the blood donation centre).
  • Suffering from a sexually transmitted disease during the past 12 months
  • Change of sexual partner during the past four months
  • Sexual intercourse with multiple partners during the past 12 months
  • Stay of six months or longer in the past 12 months in countries with a high HIV-prevalence

More information about blood donation in Switzerland can be found here.

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