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Daniel Koch

22.07.2020 – Susanne Wenger

Every crisis has its defining characters. Switzerland’s was Daniel Koch. Hardly anyone had heard of him before COVID-19. Koch came from the upper echelons of the Federal Office of Public Health, where he had been heading the Communicable Diseases Division for years. Yet during the epidemic he acted as the country’s point of reference almost on a daily basis. Tens of thousands followed the government press conferences on television and YouTube at which the bald-headed physician was constantly present. Whenever it was his turn to speak, Koch would explain the facts coolly and calmly. He would articulate complex epidemiological information in a straightforward way and respond patiently to questions from worked-up journalists with a spark of dry humour now and again. His careful, deliberate tone and unassuming manner won over the nation. Koch allayed our fears. He was someone to trust, even something of a cult figure. Through the media, we learned that he used to work as a doctor in war zones, and that he likes to go cross-country running with his two dogs (Switzerland has now heard of canicross). The public forgave Koch on the few occasions he got things wrong. The way he dismissed the effectiveness of face masks bordered on stubbornness, yet the freedom-loving Swiss lapped it up. At the end of May, with the country over the worst, ‘Mr Coronavirus’ disappeared into retirement – one month later than planned. His political boss, Health Minister Alain Berset, offered warm words on his farewell. Instead of trolling or taunting, people went on social media to thank the 65-year-old civil servant for his efforts. A book about Koch is already in the making, due to be published in late summer.

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