Switzerland braces for ‘highest ever’ turnout ahead of Covid referendum

This Sunday’s Covid referendum could reach the highest turnout in Swiss history, with members of both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps expected to vote in record numbers.

Swiss President Guy Parmelin
Swiss President Guy Parmelin takes his notes after a press conference. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

On the basis of current trends, Sunday’s referendum on Switzerland’s Covid measures, including the Covid certificate, might attract the most voters for any such vote in Swiss history. 

Based on early voting, Sunday’s referendum is set for a 75 percent turnout rate – which would be just a few percentage points lower than the highest mark ever for a referendum in Swiss history. 

The record is 78.7 percent for the referendum on European Economic Area membership in 1992. 

READ MORE: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s Covid referendum on November 28th?

Just one other referendum has attracted more than 70 percent of the population – a 1974 vote on restricting foreign immigration. 

On average, referendums attract a turnout of around 46 percent in Switzerland, according to information from the Federal Statistical Office. 

Some regions of Switzerland have already crossed this mark based purely on pre-voting alone. 

Stephan Wenger, who runs the electoral office in the canton of St Gallen, told Switzerland’s Tagesanzeiger newspaper the country was already on course for one of the highest ever turnouts, which could cross the highest ever mark with a strong in-person vote on Sunday.

“If we extrapolate the votes cast today of 46.8 percent, we come to over 75 percent”, Wenger said. 

Recent polls indicate around two thirds of the Swiss public intend to vote in support of the current measures and the Covid certificate, although some have suggested Switzerland may be delaying new measures due to concerns about a protest vote. 

READ MORE: Is Switzerland delaying imposing new measures due to Covid referendum?

Political scientist Michael Hermann said the high turnout did not indicate an early advantage for one side or the other, given that the issue was likely to motivate each group. 

“The effects of the pandemic affect us all directly”, Hermann said. 

The in-person component of the vote will take place this Sunday, alongside a vote on whether to further support nursing and healthcare in Switzerland. 

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Switzerland proposes travellers pay for Covid boosters

Under a new plan put forth by the Swiss government, anyone who needs a booster shot for travel abroad should pay for it out of pocket.

Switzerland proposes travellers pay for Covid boosters

While Covid shots were previously free for everyone in Switzerland, with the Swiss government picking up the tab, the country has been reluctant to issue a recommendation for a second booster.

As The Local reported on Monday, this means that many people’s most recent shot will soon be more than nine months ago, which is the date at which many Covid passes expire. 

READ MORE: What will Switzerland do about the ‘millions’ of expiring Covid certificates?

Although evidence of vaccination is not required domestically in Switzerland any more, it may pose issues in travel. 

Since many countries still require a vaccination certificate for entry, and as the second round of boosters is not yet available in Switzerland, this means that a large number of people may not be able to travel abroad.

Swiss health authorities: Travellers should pay for Covid boosters themselves

According to newest recommendations of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), people travelling abroad who need second booster doses must pay for the shots themselves.

As the fourth vaccine dose is currently recommended only for people with a severely weakened immune system, everyone outside of this group will be charged as yet undefined fee.

The proposal was sent to the cantons for consultation until June 1st.

If agreed on, the Federal Council will adjust the Epidemics Ordinance accordingly on June 10th.