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Was Switzerland’s Covid pandemic management the ‘second-best in the world’?

A new analysis shows that Switzerland ranks in second place in terms of pandemic management when compared with other nations. But is this high score really justified?

Was Switzerland's Covid pandemic management the 'second-best in the world'?
Did Switzerland really manage the pandemic better than other countries? Photo by Pixabay

Two years ago almost to a day, life changed dramatically in Switzerland: on March 16th, 2020, the Federal Council declared a state of emergency, closing not only the country’s borders, but also all non-essential businesses.

The public was urged to stay indoors for what turned out to be a six-week-long confinement.

This marked the official beginning of all sorts of restrictions that would be implemented, lifted, and re-introduced over the next two years, depending on the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

During this time, the government has often been criticised for the measures it took, didn’t take, or took too late to effectively combat the spread of the virus. Other countries were cited as examples of better pandemic management.

While in some ways, like closing of the borders and implementing travel restrictions, Switzerland was aligned with its neighbours, in others, it charted its own, more flexible course.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: What has Switzerland done right and wrong in managing the Covid pandemic?

To evaluate how well (or badly) Switzerland did overall in handling the unprecedented health crisis, Blick asked Stefan Legge, macroeconomist and lecturer at the University of St. Gallen to assess pandemic policies of 45 countries and compare them with Switzerland’s.

Legge used five indicators for his analysis: the health balance, the severity of the measures, the development of the economy and inflation, and fiscal policy support through aid packages.

Legge found that Switzerland handled the pandemic better than many people thought, placing it in the second place, just below Norway.

Is this high ranking justified?

From the onset of the pandemic, Switzerland had the advantage of a comparatively healthy population, a very good healthcare system and a strong economy, factors that have prevented worse outcomes and gave the government some flexibility in the kind of restrictions it implemented.

In another country, similarly small measures could have had much graver consequences, Legge pointed out.

But one category in particular seems to have skewed Legge’s analysis in Switzerland’s favour: inflation and the economic impact of the pandemic.

While Switzerland has been hit hard due to closures and prolonged home-working obligation, overall the country’s economy proved to be more resilient than others’.

As The Local wrote recently, the Swiss labour market bounced back quite well — better than other countries’ — precisely because of its strong economy.

READ MORE: How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic

The country also placed relatively high — in the fourth place— in terms of measures implemented to combat the spread of the virus. Switzerland’s were much lighter than across Europe and elsewhere, which apparently was considered a good thing for this particular  survey.

“In the second wave, the restaurants and bars were kept open when everything in the neighbouring countries had long been closed. Happy to receive ski tourists from Germany and Austria, in whose home countries the slopes were closed. And let children go to school while their peers around the world crammed at the kitchen table”, Blick writes.

However, when it comes to Covid-specific categories like the number of cases, Switzerland slips to the 14th place, below neighbours Italy, France, Austria and Germany, all of which received a lower overall score than Switzerland.

And in excess mortality, Switzerland ranks in the ninth place.

Also, the research did not take into account such  important aspects of pandemic management as vaccination rollout or rate of immunisations.

If it had, Switzerland would be likely lower in the ranking than its neighbours and many other nations, for that matter, as well.

READ MORE: Covid-19 vaccines: Why is Switzerland lagging behind other EU countries?

“Envy and resentment throughout Europe”

Despite its surprisingly high ranking in the survey, Blick conceded that Switzerland did not do everything right.

The Federal Council has repeatedly misjudged the pandemic situation or the importance of simple protective measures such as masks. Its relatively relaxed approach contributed to undermining the efforts of neighbouring countries to contain the virus, “arousing envy and resentment throughout Europe”, according to Blick.

“Small, ‘encircled’ Switzerland automatically benefited from tough restrictions abroad. The neighbouring countries kept their case numbers under control, even against economic interests”.

At the same time, Switzerland was fortunate in that it was (barely) not dependent on treatment capacities abroad”, the newspaper added.

Member comments

  1. Uh, maybe Blick should have asked, you know, and epidemiologist for this kind of information rather than a macroeconomist?
    *shaking my head*

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Switzerland to drop vaccine requirement for entry from Monday

More than two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, travel to Switzerland is set to return to normal from May 2nd.

Switzerland to drop vaccine requirement for entry from Monday

Despite winding back all Covid measures domestically on April 1st, Switzerland still required visitors from non-European countries to be vaccinated against Covid. 

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration said on Twitter late in late April that all remaining entry rules would be scrapped from Monday, May 2nd. 

What were the rules? 

Up until May 2nd, visitors from the EU/EFTA zone can enter Switzerland without needing to show a vaccination or a test. Those from outside the bloc however need to show either proof of vaccination or recovery, or fit into other exception categories, including being under 18. 

This created a somewhat contradictory situation where Switzerland has some of the most relaxed rules in Europe domestically, but a stricter entry framework than many of its neighbours. 

‘Travelcheck’: This tool shows you what you need to enter Switzerland

As a consequence, Swiss tourism authorities warned that travellers from outside Europe, particularly those from the United States, China, India and the United Kingdom, are taking their tourist dollars elsewhere. 

The Swiss Tourism Association STV submitted a formal request in March that the laws be changed, saying they had put Switzerland at a disadvantage. 

How do I know which rules apply?

One of the most important elements to consider with regard to Covid entry rules is that the country where you reside rather than your nationality is the most important aspect. 

Therefore, if you are an American living in France under the current rules, you can enter without showing proof of vaccination, as you are considered to be entering from France. 

With rules constantly changing and official sources sometimes slow to keep up, the best way to determine the rules which apply in your specific case is the Swiss government’s ‘Travelcheck’ website. 

This is available here. 

The site will ask you certain questions about your situation, although no personal details are required. 

You will then receive a tailored response with advice on your entry situation. 

An extensive set of FAQs is available on the Swiss government website here