No more masks on the train, in the shop, in the cinema. The most visible symbol of the corona pandemic has largely disappeared from everyday life. Switzerland is currently taking a break from Corona – just under 11,000 new cases were registered within a week. But the pandemic should come back with full force in the fall, warns Moderna chief physician Paul Burton (53) in view. “There will be many more variants, maybe even more serious ones,” he says.
The federal government and the cantons are already preparing for autumn. The strategy for a transition phase that will last until spring 2023 is now being clarified in a basic paper, which the Federal Council is likely to adopt this Wednesday or possibly next week. The focus is on the division of tasks between the Confederation and the cantons.
Cantons more responsible
If Federal Councilor Alain Berset (50) has his way, the federal government should continue to be responsible for the procurement of vaccines, Covid drugs, information campaigns, surveillance measures or, of course, any entry restrictions. When it comes to protective measures such as distance rules or the obligation to wear a mask, he wants to leave it at recommendations.
If, on the other hand, tough measures are involved, the Federal Council sees the cantons as responsible. These should ensure adequate health care and decide on protective measures themselves in an emergency: for example, restrict events, close schools or shops, make masks compulsory or regulate the use of the Covid certificate.
And even where national regulations make sense – such as a mask requirement in public transport – he sees the cantons as responsible. They should agree and coordinate accordingly. The hurdles for the federal government to switch back to the special situation and order Switzerland-wide measures are high: He only wants that in the event of a “new, particularly severe pandemic wave”, which leads to a greater burden on the health system than the previous waves.
Cantons want lower hurdles
The cantons are angry that the federal government is taking action. During the consultation, they vented their anger. They want the Federal Council to lower the hurdle for a return to the special situation so that an appropriate response can be made.
Will the Federal Council comply with this wish? “So far we have not had any signals that the Federal Council is going to meet us here,” says Michael Jordi, Secretary General of the Cantonal Health Directors Conference (GDK).
The division of tasks provided for in the basic paper is “okay for the quieter time in summer,” says Jordi. However, if the pandemic picks up speed again, so that there is a need for action throughout Switzerland, “then the Federal Council’s proposal is the wrong approach”.
Recommendations to the federal government: The BAG should do better in the next crisis(01:30)
Nobody knows what to expect in Switzerland in autumn. And: “Nobody knows whether and how long the immunization of the population will last or whether there will be new virus variants and a rapid increase in the burden of the disease,” says Jordi. Depending on the development, quick national decisions are needed. “The Federal Council cannot simply lie in the hammock,” Jordi makes clear. “He can’t just take action when it’s too late.”
GDK wants to define process
And if the federal government remains inactive? The GDK is also preparing for this scenario. On Thursday and Friday, the health directors will meet in Geneva for the plenary session. “We will define the process of how we as cantons want to come up with nationwide recommendations – if any become necessary,” says Jordi.
However, this is not about fixed indicators. And he emphasizes: “More than recommendations to the cantonal governments are not possible. We have no legal basis for enforcing measures across Switzerland.”
And so there is a risk of a cantonal patchwork quilt again in autumn if there is a new corona wave. Experience to date has shown that this does not meet with any understanding among the population. For Jordi it is therefore clear: “If the numbers go up steeply, a return to the special situation is indicated if there is a risk to public health.” That would mean that the Federal Council would take up the reins again.