Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Switzerland imposes early closing time for bars and restaurants

    Wed, 28 Oct 2020 16:41:00 GMT

    The government is also extending a mask-wearing obligation as part of new wide-ranging measures to fight Covid-19 by significantly reducing person-to-person contacts. Nightclubs will need to close their doors, while restaurants and bars must remain shut between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. With the exception of families and members of the same household, customers will be seated at tables of four people maximum. “We all want Switzerland to be able to manage and overcome this crisis as a united country,” Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga said at a press conference to announce the new restrictions. “No one wants to see another semi-lockdown.” Masks, which since October 19 have been mandatory in all indoor public spaces, must also now be worn in outdoor areas of shops, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and bars, and at open-air markets. Masks are also compulsory in high-traffic pedestrian zones where physical distancing is not possible, in schools from the secondary II level, and in workplaces.

  • What is it like to work in Switzerland?

    Wed, 28 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland has a strong economy, low inflation, low national debt and a low unemployment rate. It’s hard to believe that only a few generations ago, Switzerland was poor and many had to leave to find work abroad. The labour market has dramatically transformed since then and continues to change. In the 19th century, the country’s textile and chemical industry started taking off, followed by the machine industry and the banking sector. But it was only after World War II that people living in poor cantons stopped seeking work in other countries as a matter of course. Today Switzerland has become an internationally popular workplace, with jobs in information services, finance, or pharmaceuticals as well as in the clothing or gastronomy sector. It’s home to many global companies and international organisations. The average wage for a full-time job is CHF6,500 ($7,190) per month. But the cost of living in Switzerland is high.  A major factor in the stability of the Swiss workforce is...

  • Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

    Wed, 28 Oct 2020 15:43:00 GMT

    The daily number of new coronavirus cases across Switzerland reached more than 8,500 at the end of October, prompting the government to impose countrywide restrictions in a bid to limit the surge. New restrictions, including mask-wearing in all enclosed public spaces, come into force across Switzerland on October 29, as authorities try to rein in a rapidly deteriorating public health situation. Other measures might vary from region to region as the 26 cantons have autonomy on health matters. The number of new positive cases has increased in recent weeks. On October 28 daily numbers rose to 8,616 and 24 deaths were recorded. Travel is possible between Switzerland and the European Union, EFTA countries and the UK. Citizens and residents of non-Schengen countries, including the US, can enter Switzerland only in exceptional cases. A list of non-Schengen countries not affected by this ban can be found here. Citizens and residents of Switzerland may always enter Switzerland. Those...

  • The palace at the centre of world peace

    Wed, 28 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Throughout the 20th century, the Palais des Nations building in Geneva was at the centre of global peace negotiations. A look back at its history in black and white. The foundations of international law were laid during the two world wars that ravaged the first half of the 20th century. The League of Nations, founded 100 years ago, put down the initial groundwork. This was followed by its successor, the United Nations, which turned 75 this year. It took on the role with European powers exhausted by war. But the UN can only act within the limits set by its 192 member states, especially the most powerful ones. In this regard, the progress agreed between nations has been quite remarkable. Whether it is the recognition of refugee status and an agency to help them, international conventions encouraging greater respect for human rights, technical standards established in the field of telecommunications or intellectual property rights, the UN has enabled countries to come together...

  • In the Swiss Alps, solar power takes to the water

    Tue, 27 Oct 2020 11:05:00 GMT

    The world’s first high-altitude floating solar power plant is now operating – in the Swiss Alps. According to experts in the field, this technology could become a major part of the photovoltaic industry worldwide. "The idea started over a coffee,” Guillaume Fuchs recalls. “We were wondering how reservoir lakes could be used to produce more power. That was in 2013, and there were already a few projects on the go for floating solar power plants. But at that point, there was none in an Alpine environment.” We meet in Bourg-St-Pierre, a village in Canton Valais on the road to the Great St-Bernard Pass, between Switzerland and Italy. A French-Swiss dual citizen, Fuchs qualified as a mechanical engineer and worked in the auto industry before getting into the field of renewable energies. "I wanted a job in a more sustainable sector," he says. He now works for Romande Energie, the main supplier of electricity in French-speaking Switzerland. We travel a few kilometres southwards, into...

  • Cowboy culture? Keeping aid workers accountable

    Tue, 27 Oct 2020 11:33:00 GMT

    Late last year I had dinner with a group of senior aid workers, ahead of a debate the following day on integrity and risk sharing in the humanitarian aid community. We discussed the changing face of humanitarian work over the years. “The days of cowboys are over,” reflected one. “I probably used to be one.” He didn’t need to explain to me what he meant by “cowboys”. Any journalist who has spent time in conflict and crisis zones will have come across them: hardened aid workers, swooping in on light aircraft, looking around, deciding what’s needed, and doing just that, without necessarily asking too many questions. Usually men, usually white, usually extremely dedicated, often cynical, sometimes a bit swaggering. But those cowboys are becoming somewhat rare. There has been a huge amount of soul searching among the aid community over the years. Not just because of headline grabbing scandals like the ones which emerged around sexual exploitation by an aid agency in Haiti, but...

  • Coronavirus: the latest numbers

    Tue, 27 Oct 2020 12:22:00 GMT

    Here is an overview of the most important Swiss-related coronavirus data and graphs, which are updated automatically. How fast is the coronavirus spreading in Switzerland? We publish a series of graphs on this page, which are constantly updated as new data becomes available. This only happens once a day from Monday to Friday. The sources and the methodology behind the graphs can be found at the end of the article. In order to assess the current situation in Switzerland, various data points can be used. The new infections reported daily are often quoted. For the new infections data to be meaningful and for the situation to be correctly assessed, sufficient tests are needed. The available data on the tests show that testing regimes of the cantonal authorities are subject to fluctuations. The proportion of positive results from the total tests carried out is a good indicator of whether the officially published case numbers are an accurate picture of the overall situation.

  • Pandemic makes billionaires – and their advisers – richer

    Mon, 26 Oct 2020 10:40:00 GMT

    The world reels from the economic aftershocks of the coronavirus pandemic, but for the Swiss bankers shepherding the fortunes of the world’s super-rich, it is boom time. Switzerland’s dozens of other ultra-discreet, storied private banks — depositories such as Lombard Odier, once lender to Napoleon — have watched their clients’ assets surge this year. The larger ones are benefiting too: last week Zurich-based UBS, whose private bank operations are the world’s largest, reported its best quarterly earnings in a decade. This week, its rival Credit Suisse is predicted a similar bonanza. “[Our clients] did not panic during the sell-down,” Sergio Ermotti, UBS’s chief executive, told the Financial Times. “Instead they used it to build up positions.” The global economy is expected to contract 4.4% this year — the sharpest contraction in modern history — throwing millions into poverty, according to the International Monetary Fund. But the world’s billionaires have grown wealthier...

  • Chile’s constitutional vote offers window to democratic future

    Sun, 25 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Chile wants to get rid of a constitution that dates back to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The debate about a new, democratic basic law has awakened Chilean interest in a country on the other side of the world – Switzerland. The children of Swiss emigrés – both in Chile and in Switzerland – are partly to thank for this. Ricardo Santana works in an anonymous office building in the Chilean capital, Santiago. Aged 32, he is a public servant in the financial department of the Chilean Foreign Ministry. He oversees the diplomatic service’s activities concerning the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC. He grew up in the southern Chilean province of Patagonia, also known as Tierra del Fuego – the sparsely populated strip of Latin American territory that is closest to the South Pole. “When I was born, Pinochet was already on the way out,” Santana says. Shortly after Santana's birth, 56% of Chileans voted against extending the dictator’s term of office in a historic referendum on...

  • Is the time ripe for national referendums in the US?

    Sat, 24 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    With the US presidential elections less than two weeks away, journalist Joe Mathews argues for a Swiss-style direct democracy system in the United States. California has a solution for America’s putrid populism and political paralysis on issues from abortion to voting rights to reducing greenhouse gases. That solution is adopting direct democracy at the national level—allowing Americans to vote, by referendum, on the biggest questions dividing the United States. Enacting such a change wouldn’t be terribly challenging or risky. All Congress would have to do is follow a series of practical steps offered by a Californian named John Matsusaka. I’m co-president of the annual Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, and have gotten to know Matsusaka, who is on the business and law faculties at the University of Southern California, because he knows more about direct democracy than any other American. For years, he has kept alive the Initiative & Referendum Institute, which tracks how...

  • Rules and cost of home office work still being debated

    Fri, 23 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    As of this week, home office is again recommended wherever possible by the Swiss government. But the legal and practical realities of teleworking are not so clear. Home office has become a global catchphrase since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Switzerland, according to the Federal Statistical Office, the number of employees working from home has doubled from 25% to 50%. An analysis by the IFO economic institute in Munich has shown that home office is an effective measure against the virus: comparing teleworking statistics against infection rates, it found that German regions better able to implement teleworking saw a slower spread of Covid-19. But once the virus disappears, will the home office phenomenon follow suit? Not at all, says the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO), which believes that the current experience with teleworking will have a long-term effect on how and where we work. The ILO’s findings are echoed by other surveys, including...

  • New life for Swiss musical instruments in Mexico

    Fri, 23 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Jorge Viladoms, a Mexican pianist and professor at the Lausanne Conservatory of Music, describes how his life in Switzerland inspired him to help bring music back to his homeland. It’s a late summer afternoon, and the small but very bright classroom at the Lausanne Conservatory is filled with the soothing notes of Manuel María Ponce’s Intermezzo. At the piano is Jorge Viladoms. The 35-year-old has already had a dazzling career, despite the fact that he only started playing at the age of 15. Since that first moment, when he played as an act of catharsis after the death of his father, music has never left his life. At 18, a chance encounter brought him to the music school where he now teaches in southwestern Switzerland. But there’s no such thing as good luck if it’s not created and shared. At 26, Viladoms became the school’s youngest piano professor. Through his foundation ‘Crescendo con la Música’, he immediately began weaving his passion for music between Switzerland and...

  • Responsible business initiative enjoys solid support

    Fri, 23 Oct 2020 04:00:00 GMT

    A proposal to impose due diligence rules on Swiss-based firms active abroad currently stands a chance of winning voters’ approval, pollsters say. A separate initiative aimed at restricting financial investments in arms manufacturers also has a slight majority in an opinion poll seven weeks ahead of a nationwide ballot on November 29. But both left-wing proposals are expected to lose ground over the next few weeks as the campaigns heat up. For details see chart below: Supporters of the so-called Responsible Business or Corporate Responsibility Initiative have a 30-percentage point lead. It has solid backing notably from the political left, women and low-income earners, according to the poll. It was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company. One of the crucial factors that could decide the outcome of the vote is the support of the grassroots centrist parties and independent voters, says Martina Mousson, project leader at the GfS Bern...

  • Contact-tracing apps: good allies against the pandemic?

    Wed, 21 Oct 2020 07:28:00 GMT

    With the arrival of the second wave of Covid-19, Swiss and international authorities are insisting on the need for digital tracing to slow the spread of the virus. Can it work? Since early October there has been a dizzying increase in Covid-19 infections in Switzerland, with new infections now exceeding 3,000 a day. In this context the federal authorities are urging the public to download the SwissCovid contact-tracing app – a system that has sparked concern and criticism, like similar applications in the rest of Europe. So far, SwissCovid has been downloaded by about 2.5 million people – still far below 60% of the population, the figure considered essential by some experts to ensure the effectiveness of contact tracing. “We have proof that the app works,” says Sang-il Kim, head of the digital transformation division at the Federal Office of Public Health. He explains that since June more than 100 people who tested positive did so after receiving a warning from the app. In...

  • Global public health governance: The way forward in the times of Covid

    Thu, 22 Oct 2020 07:00:00 GMT

    In just a few months the Covid-19 pandemic has upended the world as we know it. An unprecedented humanitarian crisis on a global scale, Covid-19 has ushered in a new era that calls for global solidarity and major revision of the way we manage global public health events. This crisis underscores the interconnectedness of our global world. Mother earth is one interdependent community – with all of humanity as its citizens. Not taking care of our fellow humans is no longer an option. Your individual health is now linked to everyone else's health and we can no longer solve global health issues of concern to citizens everywhere at country level. The only solution is a collective engagement to reduce risks and create collective security. Our health, our lives, depend on it. Gilles Poumerol Dr. Gilles Poumerol, MD, MSc is a public Health International expert. He was on the staff of WHO for 30 years working on epidemics, pandemics and International Health Regulations (IHR). He is...

  • Belarus: ‘Women protesters experience less violence than men’

    Wed, 21 Oct 2020 13:00:00 GMT

    The number of women protesting against autocratic Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is strikingly high. Swiss political scientist Leandra Bias explains how being a woman is a strategic advantage in the fight against patriarchal regimes. Leandra Bias Leandra Bias was born in Zurich in 1988. She is a political scientist and recently submitted her dissertation, “Feminist Critique-ability in Authoritarian Times”, to the University of Oxford where she had previously studied Russian and European studies. She is now gender and peacebuilding advisor at swisspeace, a Swiss peace research institute. swissinfo.ch: Why are women playing such an important role in the Belarus protests? Leandra Bias: Women often play an important role in protest movements. The fact that it’s more apparent in Belarus can be attributed to two things: a trio of women were the main symbol of the opposition; the peaceful protests that occurred after the first three violent days when mainly men took to the...

  • How do you get Swiss youngsters to vote?

    Tue, 20 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Although the legal voting age in Switzerland is 18 and has been since 1991, political participation of people aged 18-24 is still low. Only one-third of them go to the polls, similar to trends in other countries, with the exception of Austria and Australia. What’s the secret to attracting young people to the ballot box? Young climate change protesters are back on the streets. In late September, they made their voices heard in places as varied as Argentina, Kenya, New Zealand and Switzerland with a single message for politicians: “You are far too slow. Do something about climate change!” Last month in the Swiss capital, Bern, young climate activists camped in front of the parliament building in an act of civil disobedience while parliamentarians were meeting inside. Under Swiss law it is illegal to stage political protests on the main square while parliament is in session. The demonstration went on for three days before police removed the protesters. In recent times, climate...

  • Study: Young men aim more for ‘status jobs’

    Mon, 19 Oct 2020 12:00:00 GMT

    Young men in Switzerland aspire to higher social status jobs than young women, a study has found. And whether you choose the apprenticeship or university track will have a big impact on your career goals. Researchers Irene Kriesi and Ariane Basler used data on around 1,000 young people aged 15-21 from the Swiss Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth to examine how their educational pathways influenced their job aspirations. The results have been published in the latest edition of the journal Social Change in Switzerland. Gender differences were already clear at aged 15, when compulsory school ends in Switzerland. Overall, boys said they wanted to be IT workers, professional athletes or car mechanics, but girls opted for commercial employees, doctors or nursery workers. Making a difference though was the kind of post-compulsory education chosen. In Switzerland, 2/3 young people opt for the vocational route after compulsory school – usually an apprenticeship that combines...

  • How Switzerland and France approach ‘Islamic separatism’

    Mon, 19 Oct 2020 09:03:00 GMT

    Could a controversial French action plan to tackle “parallel societies” within the Muslim community resonate in neighbouring Switzerland? In a speech delivered earlier this month from Les Mureaux, a sprawling suburb northwest of Paris plagued by social and economic problems, French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a broad outline of measures to address “Islamic separatism” and “free Islam in France from foreign influences” which he said would be drawn up into a law to be presented to parliament in December. Macron’s vision is based on the conviction that France's problems with its citizens of immigrant origin – who mainly came from former French colonies in northern and sub-Saharan Africa ­­­–­ are caused by their misinterpretations of Islam. According to Macron, “Islam is in crisis all over the world today” and the solution to France's problems lies in the creation of a “French Islam that can coexist peacefully with the values of the Republic". His proposed measures have...

  • Sergio Ermotti: ‘My best decision was not to follow consensus’

    Mon, 19 Oct 2020 06:40:00 GMT

    When Sergio Ermotti became chief executive of UBS in November 2011, the 158-year-old Swiss bank was at one of the lowest points in its history. Markets were plunging amid the eurozone sovereign-debt crisis and just months earlier UBS had revealed that a rogue trader had hidden SFr1.8bn ($2bn) of losses, a scandal that took down Mr Ermotti’s predecessor, Oswald Grübel. Mr Ermotti, who had joined UBS in 2010 from Italy’s UniCredit, received a battlefield promotion to right the ship alongside new chairman Axel Weber, an ex-economics professor and former Bundesbank president. Nine years later, the 60-year-old is stepping down in the middle of a new kind of crisis, one he describes as “profoundly different” because clients and staff are “scared for their lives” this time, not just for their homes or investments. “Do I enjoy crises? I’m not as masochistic as that . . . but of course I know this is the time where I’m meant to be most visible,” Mr Ermotti says. “It’s very difficult to...

  • WTO boss’ recent early exit a warning shot to multilateralism 

    Sat, 17 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The embattled World Trade Organization has announced two shortlist candidates to be its new leader. In a historic first, both are women. But they are unlikely to find the job any easier than Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo. Azevedo stepped down unexpectedly before the end of his mandate. Why did he go and what are the pressures of this job? Either South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee or former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the next WTO director-general in a race expected to conclude in the coming weeks. An insight into Azevedo’s track record and reasons for going give some insight into what awaits his successor. Officially, the Brazilian claimed that the gesture was a way to preserve the system, which had already been severely undermined. By anticipating the choice of the new director, he would prevent the election of the new boss from coinciding with and contaminating the WTO ministerial conference scheduled for 2021. But for months, Geneva saw an...

  • What’s the best way to distribute asylum seekers in Europe?

    Fri, 16 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Migration expert Etienne Piguet and his team at the University of Neuchâtel in western Switzerland have mapped out what a balanced distribution of asylum-seekers in Europe could look like. Back in 2015 the record influx of refugees to the European continent crudely highlighted the gross imbalance between countries receiving the bulk of asylum claims – namely Greece, Italy and Spain – and those whose doors remained firmly shut. The recent fire at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos has only renewed interest in the issue. Just days after the disaster, the European Union presented its New Pact on Migration and Asylum, its latest effort at reforming the system for the 27-nation bloc. The main points of the new EU migration pact The pact, released on September 23, takes stock of the failure of the introduction of quotas after the 2015 migration crisis. Among the main proposals are: Introducing a pre-entry screening procedure to identify at an earlier stage those...

  • Covid-hit media must find new ways to grow

    Fri, 16 Oct 2020 12:11:00 GMT

    Some Swiss media outlets lost as much as 95% of their advertising revenues during the Covid-19 pandemic and they are not alone. Local media in many rich countries are suffering similar fates. But quality news media are more important than ever and must find new ways to grow, argues Geneva-based journalist Brij Khindaria. Unlike their colleagues in most other countries, Swiss editors have public service in their DNA. In the early weeks after the partial lockdown on 16 March, hardly any media outlets criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic, and it is still rare nearly six months later. In contrast, media in the United States, France, Italy, Britain, Spain and many other countries savaged their leaders and are still virulent critics. Partly because of this feistiness, consumer interest for news on all platforms has increased considerably. But advertising revenues continue to fall across the board. Covid-19 has brutally demonstrated how a microscopic virus can...

  • The Swiss biotech shaking up the antibiotics model

    Thu, 15 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Family-owned Debiopharm says it’s time to treat the life-saving medicine like insurance if we want to avoid another pandemic. As an entrepreneur for more than 40 years, Thierry Mauvernay knows how to spot a good business opportunity. Antibiotics isn’t one of them. “There is no business proposition for it,” the president of Debiopharm said simply. The problems in the antibiotics market have been known for years. Costly research for a product sold at relatively low prices for a short period of time have led big companies to shun investments in new antibiotics. Even academics are shying away from research in the field. But Mauvernay isn’t giving up on Debiopharm’s pursuit of new antibiotics. “I don’t want a bacterial pandemic to emerge, and to look back and say we could have done something,” he told swissinfo.ch at the company’s manufacturing facility in the south-western town of Martigny. The risks for the firm are growing, though. As more big pharmaceutical companies move out of...

  • Does your vote count? Trump says ‘Let’s see’ – Switzerland says ‘Let’s talk…’

    Wed, 14 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    America’s election anxieties are far from unique. Switzerland’s recent referendum experiences may offer some clues for managing polarisation. In a scary moment for American democracy, US President Donald Trump declined to say if he would accept the outcome of the November 3 election, warning his supporters to prepare instead for a democratic disaster. “This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” he said during the first debate between himself and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Trump also questioned the fairness of mail-in voting – which began in the 1880s and is now accessible to 83% of the US electorate – and suggested the “Proud Boys” white supremacist group should “stand by” until the result is known. This lurch towards anti-democratic behaviour in the oldest modern democracy is hardly an outlier in the global political landscape, according to New York University Professor of Politics Adam Przeworski. He counts 68 countries that have never yet had a...

  • How should we cope with pandemic fatigue?

    Tue, 13 Oct 2020 08:15:00 GMT

    We are all fed up with cancelled holidays, missing our families in other countries, and none of us, if we are honest, enjoys wearing a mask. The World Health Organisation is warning that people across Europe are exhausted and stressed by the measures to control Covid – 19. “Pandemic fatigue” is undermining efforts to control the virus. A WHO survey found that up to 60% of Europeans are becoming irritated with government restrictions, and sometimes reluctant to follow them. On March 18th this year, I had a plane ticket to Singapore, the start of a long planned, one month trip to Australia and New Zealand. For two years I had saved up airmiles to wangle my way, for once, into business class. All cancelled now, or at best on hold. In the intervening months I have worked from home, watched my sons fret about their futures as their university courses go online, and worried about my elderly mother, in a care home without visitors, suffering with advanced Alzheimers. My experiences...

  • 20 years on: Deadly mudslide remembered

    Wed, 14 Oct 2020 13:21:00 GMT

    Two decades ago, 13 people lost their lives when the tiny village of Gondo on the Swiss-Italian border was sliced in two by a 40-metre-wide swathe of mud and rocks loosened by three days of torrential rain. The landslide swept away ten houses, the school, shops and the road. It also reduced most of the historic Stockalper Tower to rubble, leaving only the very oldest part of the building standing. The mayor of the village, who lost two of his brothers, made a desperate appeal for help on the local radio station. Gondo was hardest hit, but other villages in upper Valais were also cut off, houses were swept away and people died. The catastrophe unleashed an outpouring of solidarity in Switzerland. The humanitarian charity Swiss Solidarity raised CHF74 million ($81 million) to help victims of the storms in Valais and Ticino. A third of the funds went to Gondo and Baltschieder in Valais, which were most affected. In addition to rescue and clean-up work, the villages also received...

  • Banks making slow progress on diversity issues

    Tue, 13 Oct 2020 14:18:00 GMT

    A recent story from the New York Times implied that the resignation of Ivory Coast-born Tidjane Thiam at the helm of Credit Suisse earlier this year had racist undertones, and he was the only Black CEO among the world’s biggest banks. How does the banking world – especially Credit Suisse – address the issue of diversity among its ranks? In their annual reports, most of the big banks point out the importance of diversity and of promoting minorities. (The reports define diversity as the equal treatment of employees regarding gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion and so on). But real change can be slow, according to Anina Cristina Hille, who researches corporate diversity at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences. Despite commitments from Swiss employers, especially the big banks, Hille says action on diversity issues also requires buy-in from society as a whole and the political sphere. Thiam’s controversial departure In February, 2020, Tidjane Thiam stepped...

  • Confusion reigns as responsible business debate heats up

    Fri, 16 Oct 2020 09:30:00 GMT

    Our analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: responsible business debate, gold refineries speak up, and Roche rapid Covid-19 tests. With a nationwide vote just over a month away, campaigners for and against Switzerland’s Responsible Business Initiative are trying to win fans. But keeping the facts straight is getting more difficult. A few days ago, Swiss public television SRF hosted a lively debate that offered a glimpse into why this initiative has been hotly contested for years. On the fundamentals, both sides agree: multinational companies should respect human rights and the environment and failing to do so isn’t good for Switzerland’s reputation. But the debate revealed divisions in the basic understanding of the initiative itself. Which companies would it apply to if passed? What is meant by control over subsidiaries or suppliers? Does the initiative go beyond what’s already expected of companies in Swiss law? At one point, those...

  • Why Swiss cities can’t yet take in Moria refugees

    Mon, 12 Oct 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    As winter looms, various European cities want to take in refugees from the Moria migrant camp in Greece, but there are obstacles. In Switzerland, cities must take their cues from the federal government. Since fires devastated the Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last month, several Swiss cities have shown their solidarity with the thousands of victims. There have been cash donations as well as appeals urging the federal government to speed up the acceptance of more migrants, in particular unaccompanied children. Shocked at the sight of the Moria inferno, Zurich was the first city to launch the appeal, which was then relayed by the authorities in Geneva, Bern and Lausanne. It was also taken up by smaller capitals, such as Fribourg and Delémont. “Switzerland must seize this opportunity” to respond to this “situation of extreme urgency,” the Geneva and Lausanne city councils enjoined. Key partners In calling for “greater commitment” from Switzerland, the cities...

  • Swiss scientists fight food waste at the nano level

    Sun, 11 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Every year, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes to waste worldwide. In Switzerland researchers are trying to help tackle the food waste challenge using nanotechnology. It can happen to anyone - a yogurt at the back of your refrigerator has passed its best-before date and you end up throwing it in the garbage or compost. But was it actually ok to eat? The best-before quality recommendation stamped on food can be confusing for consumers. Perhaps the food in that particular package was perfectly safe and tasty. And by ending up in the bin unnecessarily, it simply added to the mountains of food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), roughly one-third of all food produced every year is wasted or lost from farms to shops to caterers to households. Switzerland is a major culprit: 190 kilos of food is wasted per person annually. Niloufar Sharif believes she might have an answer to this problem. The Iranian post-doctoral researcher is...

  • What’s being done about mask and glove pollution?

    Sat, 10 Oct 2020 08:15:00 GMT

    They protect us while we wear them, but what happens to all those masks and gloves after we discard them? As more places make mask-wearing compulsory, we are facing the problem of how to manage a new source of pollution. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a new form of waste that is not easy to handle. Take masks, which are made up of three elements – the “fabric” part, the metal strip for pinching on the nose, and the elastic bands. Here lies the first complication, as the different materials cannot be recycled together. What is more, the protective part is not actually made of fabric, but of a plastic called polypropylene. As for the gloves, at best they are made of natural latex; at worst they are also plastic and give rise to the same problems as masks as they decompose. Visible pollution Environmental groups have been sounding the alarm for several months now. In February OceansAsia published the first shocking pictures of beaches strewn with pandemic-related debris near...

  • Switzerland’s driving role in the green hydrogen revolution

    Fri, 9 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Will drivers of the future be filling up their cars with hydrogen? In Switzerland a unique business venture is paving the way for emissions-free mobility by replacing fossil fuels with green hydrogen. On the roads, hydrogen-fuelled cars are still a rare sight. But all of this could soon change. Both Germany and France have announced billions in investments in hydrogen technology. In July the European Commission presented its strategy for achieving carbon neutrality through renewable hydrogen. Switzerland, though not a member of the European Union, is partly responsible for the continent-wide programme, since together with six EU countries it devised a roadmap for the development of hydrogen. In fact, the Alpine nation has every intention to play a leading role in the production of green hydrogen, one of the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels. It is the first country in the world to have launched a new form of zero-emission mobility at the national level. “It’s not just...

  • Swiss factory rushes to prepare for Moderna Covid-19 vaccine

    Wed, 7 Oct 2020 10:59:00 GMT

    The Lonza plant at Visp, deep in the Swiss Alps, is a hive of activity. Workers are racing to set up production lines to be able to start making a Covid-19 vaccine for US firm Moderna later this year. The 2,000-square-metre space in the new Lonza factory is still a construction site. But Torsten Schmidt, who heads the company’s Visp facility in canton Valais, southwestern Switzerland, is confident. “Everything will be ready to produce the first doses in December,” he told reporters on Tuesday. The Swiss pharma company is building three vaccine production lines in Visp at a cost of $210 million (CHF191 million) to supply 300 million doses annually for the rest of the world. In parallel, new production lines at Lonza’s site in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, aim to start making vaccine ingredients exclusively for the US in November. A project of this size normally takes two years, Schmidt explains, but due to the urgency of the pandemic they have had only eight months to complete it.

  • Swiss refiner breaks industry silence on sourcing gold from risky areas

    Thu, 8 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    In a rare interview, PX Precinox CEO Philippe Chave defends his company’s record in Peru and says abandoning artisanal miners is not the way to achieve more sustainable and transparent mining practices. For years reports of environmental and labour abuses associated with gold mining in Peru have plagued Swiss refiners that sourced the precious metal from the South American country. Some companies decided to stop working with artisanal miners altogether due to the risks of trading in illegal gold. Others, including jewellers and watchmakers, have promoted initiatives for better transparency of the supply chain. Last month the Swiss government proposed an amendment to the World Customs Organization that would allow for better traceability of gold. The change calls for imports to be differentiated between refined and unrefined gold. Some 70% of global gold is refined in Switzerland. In Peru, Jura-based refiner PX Precinox has struck up a partnership with Minera Veta Dorada, an ore...

  • How a Swiss computer game is teaching kids to defeat Covid-19

    Wed, 7 Oct 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    The Swiss-developed CoronaQuest computer game is helping pupils in Switzerland and abroad protect themselves – and face their fears over the coronavirus. The educational game, launched by canton Vaud in May for pupils aged 4-16, has been played 342,000 times globally (end of September figures). It now exists in 11 languages. "I introduced my 5-year-old son to it and we've played the first two levels," said Julien Schekter, head of communication at the canton’s Department of Training, Youth and Culture, who also led the game development team. Schekter said there was a surge of interest in computer games at the peak of the coronavirus crisis. This led to the development of a number of educational games in which heroes wear masks and socially distance. But as far as he knows, “only this Swiss-made game CoronaQuest adds a psychological aspect". This was key for the canton, which rolled out the game as pupils returned to compulsory school on May 11, after an eight-week nationwide...

  • Doctor knows best? Why patients must be part of the solution

    Wed, 7 Oct 2020 08:09:00 GMT

    Patient advocate Judith Safford argues that without the support of the public and patients, health systems are powerless to stop the pandemic. Even before the pandemic started, health systems worldwide needed reform. The challenges vary: changing dynamics of demography, rising costs and overpricing, shortages of qualified healthcare staff, false market incentives and poor governance, corruption, and fraud. The results are inadequate access, poor quality and/or high costs. The general perception is that current health systems must reform, because projected social, environmental and economic developments will make them unsustainable. Patient empowerment in health care can not only improve personal outcomes, it is the logical next step. One useful learning from Covid-19 is that without the support and cooperation of the public or patients, health systems are powerless to stop this pandemic. Patients and the public will have to be part of the solution. This is an interesting and...

  • Inside Geneva: Aid agencies face racism accusations

    Tue, 6 Oct 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    In this episode of our Inside Geneva podcast: Geneva-based humanitarian aid agencies are soul searching as they stand accused of institutional racism. What's behind the accusations, and how are they being addressed? Host Imogen Foulkes discusses the issue with Liesbeth Aelbrecht, director general of MSF Switzerland; Alan Mwendwa of the ICRC; and analyst Daniel Warner. For more insights and discussions from Switzerland's international city, subscribe to Inside Geneva on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And subscribe to our newsletter, where you'll hear directly from Imogen in your inbox.

  • Why you may already be living in a smart city

    Mon, 5 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Broken streetlamp? Report it via an app. Disease attacking trees in the city forest? Send a drone to check for damage. Too many delivery trucks jamming up the downtown area? Build a last-mile logistics hub with bikes and e-vehicles. The idea of cities using technology to improve the lives of residents is gaining global momentum, with cities like Barcelona, Copenhagen and Singapore featuring high in smart city rankings. There’s Zurich and Geneva in Switzerland, and more modest towns like Winterthur, too. Being smart is all about sustainability for Winterthur, a town about a half-hour train ride north of Zurich. What’s a smart city? As the IMD Smart City Index puts it, smart cities “embed some of the highest hopes of mankind through the promise of harnessing technology for better lives and social harmony; for some, however, they could incarnate the fears of ‘controlled lives’ in some kind of panopticons governed by artificial intelligence and automated devices”. According to its...

  • ‘Switzerland is sending a dangerous signal to the world’

    Sun, 4 Oct 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    With its new anti-terror legislation, Switzerland could well provide a model for authoritarian regimes who want to clamp down on opposition figures. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the United Nations special rapporteur for counter-terrorism and human rights, voices her concerns. Almost 20 years ago, President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency following the terrorist attacks against the United States. It is still in force. What does that mean for the rule of law in a democracy? For the last twenty years, we have seen the state of emergency becoming the new normal. Not only in the US. The September 11 attacks led to structures to combat terrorism worldwide which take little account of human rights or the rule of law. Even at the level of the UN. Is the UN not paying attention to human rights or the rule of law in some respects? In the aftermath of 9/11, a committee was created, a sub-group of the UN Security Council, actually a clone of it, with the same 15 members: the...

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