Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Global cooperation needed to prevent Covid-19 drugs ‘free for all’

    Sat, 28 Mar 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    Nations must pool resources and agree on how information and technology is fairly shared in the global fight against coronavirus to prevent the situation spiralling out of control, warns Geneva-based public health expert Suerie Moon. Currently, more than 531,600 people have been infected by the virus in 203 countries and territories, and over 24,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally. Dr Suerie Moon is co-director of Geneva’s Forum on Global Governance for Health and an expert in global health, governance and infectious diseases. swissinfo.ch: The World Health Organization (WHO) is facing immense scrutiny with the coronavirus pandemic. What’s your view on the UN agency’s leadership role? Suerie Moon: Overall, WHO has done an excellent job, especially given the limited tools it has available, whether legal, financial or other. If you compare the situation to the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic or the 2009 novel H1N1 pandemic [also known as swine flu], it's really night ...

  • The first Swiss shopping mall

    Sat, 28 Mar 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    The “Shoppi” in a Zurich-area suburb changed the Swiss shopping style.  Prosperity in Switzerland rose massively after the Second World War, and people began seeing shopping as fun rather than necessary.  In 1948, the Migros consumer cooperative introduced the American principle of self-service. Cars made cities less attractive and the suburbs more accessible. In the early 1960s, developers began designing new places to live and shop.  Switzerland’s first mall opened on March 12, 1970. The “Shoppi” in Spreitenbach, canton Aargau, was initiated by the discounter Denner.  There were 1,500 parking spaces, something the mall touted in its advertising. Both ends were anchored by large department stores that attracted customers and ensured that they’d walk past the smaller shops.  The fully air-conditioned mall offered all kinds of other amenities: restaurants, an indoor swimming pool and, last but not least, a “children’s paradise” where parents could leave their kids with ...

  • How Covid-19 has hit democracy worldwide

    Sat, 28 Mar 2020 17:27:00 GMT

    The ongoing pandemic has put the entire world on hold. Public activities have been cancelled – even the release of the newest James Bond movie – while popular votes around the globe have been postponed. However, there is no reasons for autocrats, nationalists and populists to declare victory.    Things don’t look so good right now. Far from it, in fact. “Covid-19 threatens the whole of humanity”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a few days ago, referring to the pandemic which has put more than 3 billion people in lockdown, and which could unleash the worst economic recession in modern times. At this stage, nobody can fully gauge the extent and consequences of the crisis: “we have to understand that we are not the ones making the timeline; the virus makes the timeline”, said White House infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci after Donald Trump had mooted a possible easing of coronavirus-related restrictions. In my own little town in Sweden I got a first sense of the ...

  • How the virus puts the Swiss political system to test

    Fri, 27 Mar 2020 16:33:00 GMT

    News conferences and statements by politicians these days allow observers a privileged insight into the inner workings of the Swiss political system and the balance of power between the national and the regional (or cantonal) authorities. Ever since the national government began issuing orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus – gradually limiting the freedom of individuals, all but closing down public life – at the end of February, the differences of opinion between the Swiss government and several of the 26 cantons have become apparent. Be it the closure of constructions sites and factories, ski resorts, creches, the limitations on major public events and private gatherings (from a maximum of 1,000 at the end of February to five on March 20), a curfew for elderly people or easing the rules on unemployment benefits: Certainly, to an outside observer and notably the media, it came across as chaotic, prompting calls for strong leadership from the national authorities. ...

  • Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

    Sat, 28 Mar 2020 15:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland is one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus, with almost 14,000 positive tests and over 250 deaths. Here’s the latest:  As of March 28, 13,720 people have tested positive and 254 people have died, according to an aggregate of cantonal statistics. It will take at least a week for the rate of infections to ease, health officials warned on March 21.The government has issued a recommendation to all citizens to stay at home, especially the sick and the elderly. It has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people and more measures to help support the economy.Cantons can close manufacturing plants to cease operation if they follow criteria set down by the federal authorities.Army personnel have been called in to help customs officials police borders with other countries.   An “extraordinary situation” has been declared, resulting in a ban on all private and public events and closing bars, restaurants, sports and cultural spaces; only ...

  • Covid-19: Health or wealth?

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 16:00:00 GMT

    Can the pandemic be separated from the economy? Columnist Daniel Warner writes that as the pandemic grows in Europe and the United States, this and other important questions are being raised. The medical necessity of social distancing and staying home has had dire consequences for the global economy. Consumers are not spending. Many companies are closing or limiting activities. Employees are being laid off or given partial compensation. The self-employed often have no place to turn. What should governments do? Should they allow businesses to open? Obviously businesses that provide essentials such as food and its distribution, as well as all that relates to medical services, should function, although one can certainly question why President Trump has not nationalized the manufacture of masks, respirators and other medical necessities. If fighting the virus is equivalent to fighting a war, as French President Macron said, then the manufacture of masks and ventilators should be ...

  • Coping strategies: Indian students under Swiss lockdown

    Fri, 27 Mar 2020 06:00:00 GMT

    Unable to return home to India due to coronavirus-related flight restrictions, students studying in Switzerland are showing their resilience and inventiveness.   A week ago, the Indian government announced that it was prohibiting the entry of passengers from Europe (until mid-April at the very least). This includes Indian students studying abroad. In Switzerland they make up the third largest foreign student community (after China and Russia) outside Europe with over 700 scholars.    “Isolation is definitely not easy as a foreigner. It is not just your own well-being and the restrictions in Switzerland you have to worry about, but also back home, where you have elderly parents most of whom are suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure,” Rhythima Shinde, PhD student at the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), told swissinfo.ch.   Students like Shinde have to stay on top of Covid-19 information in two countries to ensure they are doing the ...

  • Erosion of fundamental principles to protect civilians

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 17:30:00 GMT

    The coronavirus pandemic is not the only news we should be paying attention to at the moment. This spring marks a truly grim milestone: the war in Syria enters its 10th year. How did the world allow this conflict to last so long? Were mistakes made, opportunities missed, or was there simply a lack of will? And did international Geneva, especially its humanitarian community, step up to the plate? My career now includes almost a decade of covering the UN’s efforts in Syria, from the attempts to deliver aid, to the Commission of Inquiry (COI) set up by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. I remember when the COI’s first report came out. I struggled to find words to report the horrors I had read, and finally, live on air, said we were witnessing Syria’s “descent into barbarism”. Initial optimism There have been so many reports since then, and I am all out of words. It’s sometimes hard to remind ourselves that when those first ...

  • Chasing the numbers behind the virus in Switzerland

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 15:00:00 GMT

    For those not on the frontline, the fight to rein in the spread of the coronavirus often boils down to watching an unfolding, sometimes confusing numbers game. And as swissinfo wrote last week, when it comes to pinning down the extent of the propagation, different reporting and testing approaches around the world mean that a completely accurate picture is hard to come by – even when it comes to numbers of deaths. Here is an overview of the situation, with data from various trusted regional, national, and international sources, current as of 26 March 2020. Which areas of Switzerland are most affected? According to cantonal figures aggregated by Bernese researcher Daniel Probst, the total number of positive cases on March 26 was over 11,000: canton Vaud had most, at over 2,000, while canton Appenzell Inner Rhodes (population 16,105) had the least, with fewer than 10. Per 10,000 inhabitants, meanwhile, the southern canton of Ticino on the Italian border – which has been a ...

  • Coronavirus: Why staying home is merely a recommendation in Switzerland

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 14:16:00 GMT

    Readers of swissinfo.ch have many questions about the way the Swiss are handling the pandemic. In this first collection of answers, we tackle social distancing measures and how the population is taking them onboard. Switzerland has progressively tightened measures aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19 across the country. The government has banned gatherings of more than five people in public places and advised everyone to stay at home. But as readers point out, the measures have left some room for interpretation. Why is staying at home a recommendation and not a requirement, like in France and elsewhere? The government has urged all residents, especially those 65 and older or who are ill, to stay at home. But they can still leave the house to go to work – if telework is not possible – see the doctor, go to the pharmacy, buy groceries or help another person.  Federal authorities have stopped short of making confinement an obligation as neighbouring countries like France ...

  • Who is Switzerland’s ‘Mr Coronavirus’?

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 09:16:00 GMT

    ​​​​​​​ After years working as a Red Cross doctor in war zones around the world, Daniel Koch has become the face of the Swiss government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.  Koch has been thrust into the spotlight; his face is everywhere, on television screens and newspaper front pages across Switzerland. The head of communicable diseases at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has become a key figure, helping explain the spread of the virus in Switzerland to millions of residents confined in their homes. He is the man answering journalists’ difficult questions in Bern, stressing that the “situation is dramatic” and announcing the growing numbers of positive cases and fatalities.  Koch is the trusted civil servant on the frontline, every day defending the government’s coronavirus strategy, which entails a partial lockdown that relies on Swiss public spirit and individual responsibility to fight the virus. The strategy is not as strict as those in Italy and Spain, which ...

  • Gold bars in short supply due to coronavirus disruption

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 10:34:00 GMT

    Traders have reported a growing global shortage of gold bars, as the coronavirus outbreak both disrupts supply and stokes demand, with one business comparing the frenzied buying of the yellow metal with the consumer rush for toilet roll.  Retail investors in Europe and the US have bought up gold and silver bars and coins over the past two weeks in an effort to protect their money from the collapse in global stock prices and many currencies.  But Europe’s largest gold refineries have struggled to keep up because of the region’s widening shutdown. Valcambi, Pamp and Argor-Heraeus are all based in the Swiss region of Ticino, near the border with Italy. Local authorities announced in recent days that production in the area was to be temporarily halted. The gold price hit a seven-year high on March 9 of more than $1,700 (CHF1,650) a troy ounce as the deepening economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak sent investors scurrying for haven assets. But gold has since been swept up in ...

  • How Switzerland benefits from development aid

    Wed, 25 Mar 2020 16:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland has great influence in development banks, controversial supranational organisations intended to promote economic development in poor countries. However, Switzerland is also a beneficiary – from World Bank funds which flow via corruption into Swiss bank accounts, according to a new study.  When the World Bank makes funds available, the aim is to stimulate the economy in a specific developing or newly industrialised country. But it’s almost a law of nature that such disbursements coincide with sharp increases in bank deposits by the country’s rich citizens in offshore financial centres.  A study by the World Bank concludes that 7.5% of the development funds it disburses end up in bank accounts in tax havens as a result of corruption in the recipient countries. Switzerland, with its banking centre, is the main destination.  Swiss banks thus benefit indirectly from funds that development banks actually make available for the economic development of poor countries.  ...

  • Who decides who gets access to the silver bullet to Covid-19?

    Thu, 26 Mar 2020 15:51:00 GMT

    Our regular analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: medical innovation at a crossroads, multinationals confront national interests and economic impacts of Covid-19. In a panic, it is difficult to make rational decisions, but the effects can last far beyond today’s health emergency. There are some 70 drugs and experimental compounds that are being studied to treat the coronavirus and it seems that new diagnostic kits are popping up almost every other day. Amidst all this great innovation, is the burning question of who will get credit for it all and who will have access to the eventual solutions. Some NGOs are calling for affordability clauses and eliminating exclusive licensing to ensure that whatever silver bullet to Covid-19 is developed doesn't just land in the hands of those who can pay the highest price. But all of the uncertainty has led some governments to hoard promising drug candidates or restrict medicine exports, which some ...

  • How the Swiss food supply chain is coping with Covid-19

    Wed, 25 Mar 2020 08:58:00 GMT

    Running out of rice? Low on loo roll? In fact Switzerland has enough to last for months, but stockists are putting in serious overtime to meet the demand.  Like their peers in other parts of the world, shoppers in Switzerland began panic-buying in response to the threat of coronavirus. Images of empty shelves made the rounds on social media, with popular items selling out more quickly than the shops could replenish them – replenish being the key word.  “There is no reason to panic over food,” the government’s delegate for national economic supply, Werner Meier, told journalists last week. The Swiss Retail Federation took out a full-page newspaper ad assuring the public that there was no shortage of food, drinks, pet supplies or other necessities. It called on shoppers to be sensible: “Those who buy more than necessary may be leaving others empty-handed and our staff overworked – at a time that is already very challenging.”  Double the pallet loads  So how are workers in retail ...

  • Coronavirus: what is ‘essential’ in Switzerland?

    Wed, 25 Mar 2020 13:05:00 GMT

    Switzerland has banned all non-essential activities to combat the spread of coronavirus. This provides an interesting opportunity for society to reflect on what is really important, says economist Sergio Rossi.  Shops, markets, restaurants, bars, museums, libraries, cinemas, concert halls, theatres, sports centres, swimming pools, hairdressers, beauty salons and ski resorts: from March 17 to April 19, all such businesses and facilities are closed in Switzerland. According to the authorities, these “non-essential” activities must be suspended during the pandemic to protect public health.  Only businesses providing essential goods to the population – such as grocery stores, bakeries, pharmacies, banks and post offices – are to remain open. If you put aside the economic consequences for employees and entrepreneurs, these measures are legitimate. How could a sports centre or theatre guarantee the health of visitors given the high risk of infection of the coronavirus? ...

  • How freestyle skier Andri Ragettli has been training at home

    Wed, 25 Mar 2020 11:10:00 GMT

    Around one billion people around the world are thought to be confined at home owing to the coronavirus pandemic. While some people only need a laptop computer to continue to work, for others it’s a bit more complicated. Who said staying home was boring? If you’re creative enough – and have all the right equipment – you can turn your house into a gym. That’s what freestyle skier Andri Ragettli did in his home in Flims, canton Graubünden, in eastern Switzerland. The 21-year-old skier and seven times World Cup winner is used to sharing his crazy routine on social media. During the coronavirus epidemic, he has gone even further and launched an online appeal to fundraise for people affected by the virus. “For every like I get, I will donate 1 cent to the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the fight against Covid-19. We are in this together.” he wrote on Instagram. “Please don’t try this at home, it was only made to entertain you!” he added. Various other Swiss athletes and ...

  • Swiss divided over government response to coronavirus

    Tue, 24 Mar 2020 16:26:00 GMT

    Two out of five people in Switzerland are in favour of tighter restrictions by the government to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to a nationwide survey.  Younger respondents and residents in the French-speaking part of the country are especially keen for the government to clamp down harder, an online poll has found.  As shown in the chart, 54% of respondents agree with the government’s current policy, while 42% want the authorities to limit personal freedom more strictly. The poll was carried out by the sotomo research institute over the past weekend and published on Tuesday – ten days after the government began  imposing sweeping measures to shut down public life. The measures have included the closure of schools, restaurants and shops selling non-essential goods as well as a ban on public and private gatherings of more than five people, but no blanket curfew.  Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly 70% of respondents in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino – ...

  • Switzerland is finding strength through kindness amid Covid-19

    Tue, 24 Mar 2020 15:51:00 GMT

    During a global pandemic, Switzerland's residents are finding innovative ways to support each other.  It started to catch my attention two weeks ago, when I drove hundreds of bottles of donated hand soap to refugees living in a Zurich camp. Though mothers at my kids' private, international school feared how the virus might affect their lives, they still raced to a store to buy products for refugees, met me in a rainy carpark, and shared soap with the less fortunate. Within two days of notifying my community of the need, I had a car overflowing with soap. Since then, I've seen mothers offering to share food, board games, puzzles, tutors, and activity ideas during a lockdown. Others promote small businesses they're concerned about on chats and offer their time and resources to strangers on social media pages. This morning I asked my neighbor Noina, "Are you afraid?" as all sorts of people come to her restaurant at scheduled times, reach under her new plastic shield and pick up ...

  • Swiss artists keep up morale despite devastating pandemic

    Tue, 24 Mar 2020 13:52:00 GMT

    Cancelled festivals, closed museums, theatres and cinemas – the arts world has been crippled by the coronavirus. Four leading names of the Swiss cultural scene explain the impact of the pandemic on the institutions they run and on social life in general.  A concert hall is not a bank. A festival doesn’t operate like a multinational corporation – it sometimes relies on volunteers for its logistical requirements. Some cultural events live solely on their takings, without any financial aid from their city or municipality. So when there is no audience it is therefore fatal.  This highlights the fragility of a sector which has been on the ropes since the beginning of March and especially after the government announced emergency measures such as banning gatherings of initially more than 50 people and then five. Nevertheless, despite the current despair, faith in the future remains.  Nicolas Stemann, artistic director of the Schauspielhaus Zurich Theatre works on the principle of ...

  • Pandemic rattles already vulnerable antibiotics market

    Tue, 24 Mar 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    As money is poured into the search for a silver bullet to Covid-19, some global health experts warn that the pandemic could also worsen the slow-burning crisis in the antibiotics market, complicating patient care. One of the early studies of Covid-19 patients in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, found that some patients, especially severely ill ones, had secondary bacterial infections. Antibiotics were administered but the study writes that high drug resistance rates to certain bacteria, such as Gram-negative, raise the risk of septic shock. While antibiotics won’t treat viruses like Covid-19, they are an important line of defense against secondary bacterial infections like ventilator-associated pneumonia, urinary tract infections and sepsis that are more common with prolonged stays in intensive care units, particularly among people with weak immune systems. However, there has been very little talk about antibiotics. “We don’t have a line of sight into the ...

  • Switzerland begins historic repatriation effort over coronavirus

    Mon, 23 Mar 2020 14:18:00 GMT

    With three flights for stranded Swiss tourists in South America scheduled this week and others planned to bring back the thousands who remain stuck abroad, the foreign ministry is mounting the ‘biggest organised return’ in the country’s history. At a press conference in Bern on Monday, Hans-Peter Lenz of the foreign ministry confirmed the flights the foreign ministry had organised to bring home travellers from Peru, Colombia, and Costa Rica. Flights from all continents are being organised. “We will continue to increase the rhythm of these flights,” Lenz said, adding that the operation could represent the ‘biggest repatriation action’ in the country’s recent history. Some 15,000 registered Swiss travellers are currently abroad, many of them in “remote” locations, according to Lenz. The government has called on all travellers to come home as soon as possible due to global disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The foreign ministry, meanwhile, has asked travellers to ...

  • Bouncing back from a coronavirus infection, a Swiss testimony

    Mon, 23 Mar 2020 16:40:00 GMT

    With the number of fatalities caused by the coronavirus rising exponentially, it is easy to overlook the number of people who have recovered. To date more than 98,000 people have overcome the virus. It's assumed they are now immune. One of them is Bettina Sooder. She was the third person officially diagnosed with Covid-19 in Zurich. "It was a strange feeling because suddenly you are a danger to others. You also feel lonely," she says. The 26-year-old probably got infected in Italy, during Milan’s famous Fashion Week. On her return, a colleague advised her to take a coronavirus test. The first case in Switzerland had only been identified the day before.  She remained in isolation at the Zurich University Hospital for four days. Then she continued her quarantine at home for another then days.  Sooder got a call from the doctor every day and after being free of symptoms for 48 hours, she was declared recovered and able to work again. Still, many didn't want to get too close to ...

  • Why homework won’t disappear after home studying ends

    Mon, 23 Mar 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    The term homework has taken on a whole new meaning with the closure of Swiss schools due to the coronavirus outbreak. But when distance learning, as it’s better known, comes to an end, some Swiss schools will reopen the debate on the importance of homework. Before the health crisis began to wreak havoc, a primary school in eastern Switzerland had become the latest to experiment with stopping homework for its pupils. The one-year pilot project, at the Feldli-Schoren primary school near St Gallen, concerned pupils aged around eight to 12. “Our main aim here is equal opportunities: there are big gaps between educationally disadvantaged and educationally advantaged families. Homework is a stress for those who can’t ask their parents for advice or help,” headteacher Ralf Schäpper told the newspaper the St Galler Tagblatt, in February, after it was announced the scheme was being extended from its initial six months. The move benefits everyone though. “When children come home ...

  • How social distancing is taking hold in Switzerland

    Mon, 23 Mar 2020 16:32:00 GMT

    What began as a recommendation to avoid handshakes and kisses on cheeks has now turned into a measure urging residents to stay at home as much as possible. As the country combats the novel coronavirus outbreak, its more than 8 million residents are gradually coming to terms with restrictive new social norms.  The latest "social distancing" measures imposed by the government are meant to reduce the number of contacts between individuals dramatically and thus slow the spread of the virus. The government in Bern, like many other countries around the world, has asked residents to stay at home as much as possible and avoid unnecessary contact with others.  While the rogue handshake will likely be brushed off, a new regulation that entered into force on March 16 foresees strict punishment for violations of the ban on large gatherings of up to three years’ imprisonment, although fines are much more likely.  Social distancing could break the exponential spread of the virus in the ...

  • Switzerland tightens restrictions, announces more economic aid

    Fri, 20 Mar 2020 17:32:00 GMT

    The Swiss government has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces to stem the spread of the coronavirus and a CHF32 billion ($32.7 billion) financial package to help the economy. Interior Minister Alain Berset said the ban would come into force at midnight Friday and remain in place until April 19. People found violating the ban face a fine of CHF100. He appealed to citizens to keep a distance of two metres apart. However, the government stopped short of announcing a complete nationwide lockdown. "This is a very Swiss approach, the government doesn't impose restrictions that people can't understand," Berset told a news conference on Friday. "It is a harsh measure in a free society but necessary to protect the vulnerable people." Spirit of citizenship He said the measures should be applied with common sense and needed to be understood by everybody. But he came out against what he called "populist" announcements by governments in ...

  • Inside Geneva: the United Nations and China

    Sun, 22 Mar 2020 11:00:00 GMT

    In this episode of Inside Geneva we take a look at the shifting influences in the United Nations – especially with regard to China.  As the United States slowly withdraws from the multilateral system and focuses on its ‘America First’ policy, China appears to be filling the political vacuum. In this edition of our Inside Geneva series, host Imogen Foulkes is joined by analyst Daniel Warner, China watcher Meg Davis from the Graduate Institute, and Sarah Brooks from the International Service for Human Rights. Subscribe to this podcast, The Swiss Connection, for example on Apple Podcasts, PlayerFM or Spotify, to ensure that you don’t miss the next episode.

  • A postcard from Geneva’s vibrant Pâquis district under coronavirus

    Sun, 22 Mar 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    Squeezed between the lake and the train station, the Pâquis quarter is best known for its colourful blend of cultures, trendy restaurants and shops, five-star hotels, relatively cheap accommodation and for being Geneva's unofficial red-light district.  The area usually comes to life as most people are going home after work. But on this spring evening, everything is closing down due to the coronavirus. Late-night drinks on packed café terraces, the hustle and bustle in the main red-light area, and a coffee and a chat between pensioners is a thing of the past.  On March 16, the Federal Council ramped up its response to the widening coronavirus pandemic, ordering the closure of all bars, restaurants, sports facilities and cultural spaces nationwide. Federal and local measures to curb the virus have reduced us to the bare essentials. Only businesses providing essential goods to the population – such as grocery stores, bakeries and pharmacies – are to remain open. Banks and post ...

  • Ski resorts closed but skiing nostalgia alive and well

    Sat, 21 Mar 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    When the Swiss government decided to lock down the country in mid-March, some ski resorts at first refused. Skiing is not only economically vital in many parts of the Alps, but is also part of the Swiss DNA, especially for older generations.  Before the coronavirus crisis hit Europe, an exhibition opened at the Swiss Alpine Museum called “The Lost and Found of Memories”, to showcase old ski gear and trophies, and even x-rays of bones broken in skiing accidents. Many of the objects were donated by the public.  Like all cultural institutions in the country, and across Europe, the Alpine Museum has had to close its doors as part of the lockdown. However, choice bits can be viewed on the museum’s website, or seen in a book made especially for the exhibition. It is a collection of postcards harking back to the decades when skiing was a passion - not just a pastime - for the Swiss.  The number of days people spent on the ski slopes declined dramatically from the 2008/09 season to ...

  • When a typhoid epidemic hit Zermatt

    Fri, 20 Mar 2020 13:00:00 GMT

    This is not the first time Switzerland and its mountain regions have had to deal with the devastating effects of disease in recent times. In 1963, a deadly typhoid epidemic broke out in the resort of Zermatt.  On Friday March 15, 1963, around 7,000 holidaymakers were enjoying the Alpine air and slopes of the mountain resort of Zermatt, canton Valais, when a press release from the local authorities shattered the calm: two cases of typhoid had been detected in the village. British newspapers reported that a dozen patients had been repatriated due to the outbreak and 40 suspected cases were being treated on the spot, while 30 others had been transported by helicopter and special train to nearby hospitals. Pierre Calpini, head of the Valais health service, warned that the situation was under control, but panic was spreading.  Immediately, a medical team of 30 soldiers was deployed to Zermatt, including a wagon specially equipped to transport patients. The hygiene team set up a ...

  • Swiss mercenaries helped spread colonialism in faraway lands

    Fri, 20 Mar 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    In the 19th century, young Swiss men from modest backgrounds helped do some of the dirty work of foreign colonial forces in Asia and Africa. While the role of Swiss mercenaries in Europe is well known, researchers have now uncovered documents that tell us more about their exploits in exotic lands.  After a hard day’s work on the farm 19-year-old Thomas Suter* (*fictional character) from a village in Emmental is ready to head to the tavern for a drink. There is a buzz in the air. Everyone is talking about Jürg Keller* who left the neighbouring village last year to join the Dutch Colonial Army (Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indisch Leger or KNIL).   Recently Keller had sent a letter from Lombok in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) to his family complaining of the heat, food and natives. It was all very exotic and exciting for Suter and the other tavern-goers who were used to a simple life working in the fields or grazing cattle. Some of the young men secretly hoped to emulate ...

  • What to expect at Swiss borders and airports

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 17:00:00 GMT

    Who can still enter the country? Who is being turned away? What do you do if you have a flight booked to Switzerland next week? An overview of the latest border situation. The Swiss government earlier this week introduced wide-ranging checks at land borders with surrounding Austria, France, and Germany, after previously having done so last week with Italy. Only Swiss citizens, Swiss residents, those entering the country for professional reasons (e.g., those who work here and have a permit to prove it), and those transiting through, can enter. Even foreign partners of Swiss citizens, who do not have a right of residence in the country, will be turned away. On Wednesday, the restrictions were ramped up again: travellers arriving by air from the four neighbouring countries are now also unwelcome, as are people coming from Spain, along with those from outside the Schengen visa-free area. What has this meant concretely? On the roads, it has meant a significant drop in the number ...

  • Social distancing is hard but can save lives

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 12:27:00 GMT

    Video calls, reading stories through a window, and dancing in the garden make these hard times a bit easier to get through. Everyone knows this is a temporary sacrifice that has to be made to ensure many more happy moments together in the future.  In this family living in Ticino, four generations are used to sharing moments of joy and love on a daily basis. However, the coronavirus pandemic and the recommendations issued by the Federal Office of Public Health require the younger members of the family to stay away from their elderly relatives in order to shield them from a disease that could put their lives in danger. The first case of Covid-19 in Switzerland was detected in Ticino on February 25. Since then, all cantons have reported cases, and the Federal Council issued an official recommendation asking the population to stay at home. People should leave their house only to buy groceries, go to the pharmacy or doctor's office, and to go to work, if they cannot work from home.

  • Why Switzerland struggles to keep track of coronavirus cases

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 14:00:00 GMT

    As our readers may have noticed, when it comes to tracking cases of Covid-19 in Switzerland, the numbers do not always add up. A fast-changing situation and counting methods that vary at the federal and cantonal levels account for some of the discrepancy. If you take the latest tally from the Federal Office of Public Health, the pandemic that has wreaked havoc across the world has claimed 33 lives in the landlocked nation. Media conglomerate Tamedia, which has a dedicated team aggregating cantonal data, counts 35. The gap between these two figures can be significantly larger within a single 24-hour period. "We do not intend to conceal anything,” Daniel Koch, head of communicable diseases at the public health office, told reporters this week when asked about the discrepancies. “We will publish the detailed figures as quickly as possible." The variation in numbers reflects the speed at which the situation is changing in Switzerland and is perhaps an inevitable consequence of a ...

  • Bern in the time of coronavirus

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 10:00:00 GMT

    "Everyone has a strong opinion on the coronavirus,” says former swissinfo.ch journalist Gaby Ochsenbein, who describes the unprecedented situation in the Swiss capital, Bern, created by the coronavirus outbreak. What a glorious spring day it is in Bern, during such bleak times. The coronavirus is omnipresent - invisible, but perceptible. Everyday life has changed, diluted, and the stately pace in Bern has slowed down to a crawl. There is a lot on people's minds. I awake to the beautiful sound of chirping birds, but today something is missing: the lively laughter and chatter of children running past my house at eight in the morning, trying to get to the local school on time.  It is the first day of the national lockdown in Switzerland and schools are closed. The children have to stay at home to help slow the spread of the pandemic. It's even quieter than usual in the crèche down the street. Many parents are keeping their young pre-school children at home as well, out of ...

  • Banks lobby regulators to relax post-crisis rules

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 11:21:00 GMT

    The global banking industry is demanding regulators relax or delay a raft of post-crisis rules on everything from capital and liquidity to accounting and climate change, which they argue are hampering their ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis.  Executives have launched the globally co-ordinated push to convince supervisors including the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and US regulators to ensure that new rules and standards do not impede their efforts to keep money flowing to the real economy.  “With the pandemic continuing to cause significant pressures on markets . . . in short time, policymakers may need to move to new realms of response — including targeted supervisory and regulatory policy measures,” said Axel Weber, chairman of Swiss bank UBS and the Institute of International Finance, a worldwide trade body for the industry. “Anything short of a global, integrated approach will prove unsuccessful.” This month the Stoxx Europe 600 Banks index and the ...

  • ‘We will come through this together’

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 13:00:00 GMT

    ​​​​​​​ The upheaval caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, is all around us. And I know many are anxious, worried and confused. That’s absolutely natural. We are facing a health threat unlike any other in our lifetimes. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading, the danger is growing, and our health systems, economies and day-to-day lives are being severely tested.  The most vulnerable are the most affected, particularly our elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, those without access to reliable health care, and those in poverty or living on the edge.  The social and economic fallout from the combination of the pandemic and slowing economies will affect most of us for some months. But the spread of the virus will peak. Our economies will recover.  Until then, we must act together to slow the spread of the virus and look after each other. This is a time for prudence, not panic. Science, not stigma.  Facts, not fear.   Even though the situation has been classified ...

  • Swiss public fridges cut waste and help the poor

    Wed, 18 Mar 2020 10:17:00 GMT

    In Switzerland, almost one in ten people suffers from or is at risk of poverty. In addition to the welfare system and the various foundations that help the most disadvantaged, more and more citizen initiatives are cropping up. One example is the Neuchâtel-based association Free Go, which was founded a year ago. Behind a black screen, at the back of the Sym'Bôle association's workshop, Lilian examines the shelves of a fridge. She chooses a few onions, a salad and a portion of lentils with chicken and puts it all in her bag, where she has already put some bread. This pensioner comes regularly to pick up free unsold items in the Free Go (a play on a French word for fridge). When she can, she deposits a coin in the piggy bank next door. "I find vegetables to make good soups," she says. "Sometimes you can even find cakes!" The supply varies from day to day, and the shelves are also often empty as free food is in demand. Volunteers collect unsold goods from the region and ...

  • Coronavirus catches managers off guard

    Thu, 19 Mar 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    The coronavirus has laid bare the fragilities and complex dependencies generated by globalisation. American-Swiss professor Suzanne de Treville, a specialist in helping firms relocate their industrial activities to the west, hopes that this crisis will trigger some major soul-searching.  Covid-19 is on the verge of bringing the world economy to its knees. From Asia to Europe and the United States, the new coronavirus that sprung from China has had a crippling effect on the economy, causing stock markets around the world to nosedive and dealing a severe blow to global growth. But this crisis has also revealed the risks and dependencies of long production lines and supply chains. Using tools derived from quantitative finance, Suzanne de Treville, professor of operations management at the University of Lausanne, has set out to prove that it is more advantageous to produce locally than abroad, even for expensive Switzerland. swissinfo.ch: In just a few weeks, the coronavirus has ...

  • Coronavirus fallout threatens existence of small companies

    Wed, 18 Mar 2020 14:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland is a land of small companies, making up 99% of all firms and two-thirds of the workforce. Many are now threatened by the coronavirus crisis despite the government stumping up CHF10 billion ($10.6 billion) in emergency funds to ease the situation. Restaurants, bars and non-essential shops have been ordered to close their doors until April 19. Border restrictions have been introduced and public gatherings have been restricted. This puts the retail, tourism, hospitality and event management sectors in immediate danger. With the economy tipped to shrink in the coming months, small manufacturing firms that supply larger companies, will also face a challenge. From the CHF10 billion aid package, some CHF8 billion will compensate employees who have been told to stay at home and not work. Companies now have to give less notice of their intention to tap into the fund (three days instead of ten) and it has been extended to employees on temporary contracts. But small business ...

  • Rapid spread of coronavirus complicates systematic testing

    Wed, 18 Mar 2020 12:06:00 GMT

    The Swiss government has been taking heat for its targeted approach to coronavirus testing, arguing that the country has passed the point of catching every case. However, some cantons are rapidly building up back-end capacity to massively scale up testing. On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on countries to ramp up testing as the best way to curb the coronavirus pandemic. “We have a simple message to all countries - test, test, test," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu told a news conference in Geneva. However, the Swiss government has not made testing the top priority in its strategy to contain the virus. Daniel Koch, head of the division of communicable diseases at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said on Tuesday that widespread testing makes sense for countries at the beginning of an epidemic, in order to prevent a broad spread. "That phase is over in Europe, so this [WHO] strategy is not specifically for Europe or Switzerland,” said Koch.

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