Top news from our partner swissinfo

  • Swiss scientist’s work could stop malaria – but how soon?

    Sat, 6 Jun 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    When Jeremy Herren left Switzerland to start a bold new research project in Kenya, not many people thought he would succeed. Now, after six years of research, he and his team have announced a breakthrough in the fight against malaria. But it could take years to find out whether the new approach is feasible in practice.  The young Swiss researcher and his team at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) discovered a microbe that naturally occurs in about 5% of a mosquito species common in East Africa. This single-cell fungus, called Microsporidia MB, keeps the mosquitoes from carrying malaria parasites.  “What we have found is very promising,” says the 35-year-old Herren via video call from his home in Nairobi. “Once we figure out how to disperse Microsporidia MB over a large area, this strategy can be successful quite quickly. The microbe would then spread on its own, hopefully over a long period of time.”  Herren’s work on malaria – which kills some ...

  • Will there be a happy ending for Swiss cinemas?

    Fri, 5 Jun 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    With cinemas able to re-open on June 6, owners are wondering not only whether they should re-open immediately but also what films to show and whether anyone will actually turn up to watch them. One Swiss cinema-owner explains the psychological drama facing the industry since March 16, when all cinemas and theatres were ordered to close. “I think at that point we were all relieved – the days before the lockdown were very difficult because of all the uncertainty,” says Edna Epelbaum, president of the Swiss Cinema Association, referring to the government’s decision to declare an “extraordinary situation” and basically close the country in an attempt to contain Covid-19.  “Each canton was deciding for itself, which made it very difficult for our industry, where we are all dependent on national and international releases. So at one point, the Sunday evening [March 15], half the country was already in lockdown and the other half didn’t know yet. It got to the point where we were ...

  • Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

    Thu, 4 Jun 2020 09:06:00 GMT

    Switzerland is gradually easing unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to avoid further damage to the economy. This is where things stand and the latest on the measures in place. Switzerland reported its first suspected Covid-19-related child fatality on May 29. But there is still some confusion over the circumstances.The country has been gradually loosening coronavirus-related restrictions. The “extraordinary situation” will be officially lifted June 19.Public and private events of up to 300 people are permitted as of June 6, and gatherings of up to 30 people are allowed from May 30.Restrictions on restaurants will be further lifted from June 6, and zoos, theatres, cinemas, sports events and campgrounds will also re-open on the same date. The government will re-open Swiss borders with all European Union and EFTA countries on June 15.A decision on allowing non-European travelers entry into the Schengen Zone will be made on July 6.Hair stylists, physiotherapists, florists and ...

  • ‘People of colour always have to look over their shoulder’

    Fri, 5 Jun 2020 07:00:00 GMT

    Wilson A.* is a Nigerian-born naturalised Swiss citizen, who has lived in the country for nearly two decades. Here, he shares his experiences with racism and the police. As told to author Jessica Davis Plüss. It is very emotional for me to talk about my experience. Sometimes I tell myself that maybe I am at fault or being too sensitive or that I am overreacting. But there are structural problems in society that I see every day. People are protesting in the streets around the world because they are sick and tired of the situation. People are sick and tired of staying silent, of keeping our composure when people call you names or the police pull you aside because of the colour of your skin. Speaking out sets me free from this loneliness and this paranoia that I feel when I walk on the street. I know what George Floyd and Eric Garner were feeling. I said those same words, “Let me breathe”. The police pulled me off a tram and I told them that I have a heart condition, but they put ...

  • How Swiss direct democracy deals with xenophobia

    Thu, 4 Jun 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    “Italians go back to Italy” was the slogan used in the “initiative against an excessive number of foreigners” 50 years ago. It was the first in a series of 42 popular votes on foreigners in Switzerland. Why does the fear of non-Swiss keep coming back?  History was made in Switzerland on June 7, 1970 when voters decided on the fate of Italian guest workers in their country. Although the initiative was rejected, the fact that 46% of voters backed limiting foreigners to 10% of the population in each canton (25% in Geneva) revealed both the widespread xenophobia and the deep rift in society at the time.  Turnout for the initiative was 75%, the highest to date. It was also dubbed the Schwarzenbach Initiative after its initiator James Schwarzenbach, the son of an industrialist family, admirer of Mussolini and sympathiser of the National Front, the Swiss equivalent of the Nazi movement.  Between the end of the Second World War and 2002, hundreds of thousands of Italians arrived in ...

  • What’s happening at Swiss borders and airports?

    Fri, 5 Jun 2020 11:49:00 GMT

    Can I travel to Switzerland? Are the airports open? Can I drive to my holiday home? Here’s an overview of the latest border situation in the small Alpine nation.  Owing to the positive evolution of the coronavirus in Switzerland, many of the unprecedented lockdown measures have been relaxed, including the easing of some border restrictions.   In view of the improving situation, on June 5 the Swiss government announced plans to lift border restrictions with all 27 European Union countries, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Britain on June 15. Switzerland had already said it would remove entry restrictions on this date with France, Germany and Austria. Its southern neighbour Italy lifted its border controls with Switzerland on June 3, but the Swiss government said a similar move on the Swiss side would be premature.   Austria, meanwhile, decided to open its border with Switzerland one week earlier than planned on June 4. While Swiss residents are now allowed to ...

  • Covid-19 strains Swiss love affair with cash

    Wed, 3 Jun 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Cash is king in Switzerland, unlike in countries such as Sweden and Norway. But an increasing number of people are now spurning cash and relying on plastic because of coronavirus. Will this trend continue after the crisis? Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the idea of cash being the only pure form of money has been replaced with fears that it helps spread contagion. People are trying to touch as few things as possible, and that applies to cash too. Flu viruses stay on banknotes for up to two weeks, according to a study by the Geneva University Hospital. At the peak of the pandemic in Switzerland, internet searches about the health risks of cash have exploded. Cashless and contactless payment methods have become buzzwords. Because many shops were forced to close their doors temporarily, more transactions were carried out online. Some shops have now re-opened with signs saying they do not accept cash for the time being. “The effect has been significantly fewer cash transactions ...

  • ‘Green’ aviation fuel aims to power planes by 2030

    Wed, 3 Jun 2020 14:04:00 GMT

    The Covid-19 pandemic has overshadowed the climate crisis, but with the gradual return of consumption and travel, concerns about global warming are resurfacing. A Swiss start-up is developing an aviation fuel produced solely with water, solar energy and CO2. Will this emission-neutral fuel put an end to “flight shame”?  Synhelion is a company founded by researchers at the federal technology institute ETH Zurich. In mid-May, together with another ETH Zurich spin-off, Climeworks, Synhelion signed a joint letter of intent with the Lufthansa Group to accelerate the market launch of a sustainable aviation fuel.  The aim is not to create new zero-emission aircraft, but to develop a zero-emission fuel by 2030 for those already flying. In other words, the amount of CO2 released during the combustion of this fuel would be equivalent to the amount of CO2 captured in the atmosphere during its production.  But how is it possible to produce a fuel using only carbon dioxide, water and solar ...

  • Corruption at FIFA: 25 criminal cases and a prosecutor in hot water

    Wed, 3 Jun 2020 07:00:00 GMT

    As the Federal Prosecutor’s Office continues to investigate numerous corruption cases linked to the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), dismissal proceedings have been launched against the Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, because of secret meetings he has held with the FIFA president. swissinfo.ch reviews the ongoing investigations. The story begins The Swiss component of the investigations into corruption at FIFA began with coordinated, global action. At the request of United States authorities, Swiss police entered the hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich on May 27, 2015 and arrested seven FIFA officials suspected of having accepted bribes and commissions. The Swiss federal prosecutor’s office also opened its own criminal investigations into unfair management and money laundering in relation to suspicions of irregularity around the selection of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 football world cup competitions.  The investigations open In the ...

  • Pandemic triggers debate over home office rules, compensation

    Tue, 2 Jun 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    The coronavirus pandemic led an unprecedented number of people to work from home in Switzerland, raising questions over laws applying to home office. Of renewed interest is a 2019 federal court ruling that employers must contribute to employees’ rent payments if they are required to work from home. When is this applicable? “This decision mainly shows that the responsibilities that the employer or the company has [towards employees] also apply to telework,” says Christine Michel, health and safety officer at the Unia interprofessional trade union, Switzerland’s largest labour union.. “The employer continues to be responsible for their health, ensuring that ergonomic conditions are met, that they can take breaks, and that working hours are respected. [Telework] can’t be a cost- saving programme.” We spoke to labour law experts Kurt Pärli of the University of Basel and Thomas Geiser of the University of St Gallen to clarify the implications of this ruling and other questions ...

  • Swiss debate on corporate liability comes to a head

    Tue, 2 Jun 2020 06:44:00 GMT

    Some of the world’s biggest companies, from Nestlé to Glencore, face the prospect of tougher ethical regulations in Switzerland, as a four-year debate over business practices comes to a head in parliament this week.  From Tuesday, MPs will have less than three weeks to thrash out a compromise to a proposed change to the law brought by the Responsible Business Initiative (KVI).  The proposal will make businesses in Switzerland legally liable and “guilty until proven innocent” for abuses of human and environmental rights anywhere in their supply chains around the world — whether at subsidiaries or third-party companies.   The KVI emerged in 2016 as a result of Switzerland’s direct democratic process garnering the support of more than 100,000 citizens, the threshold for triggering a referendum.   Under Switzerland’s constitution, the country’s lawmakers have the right to formulate an alternative to the popular proposal. If the initiative’s sponsors agree to the parliamentary ...

  • How food is being reimagined in Switzerland

    Mon, 1 Jun 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    We are taking great care in deciding what we eat, ensuring more often that foods tick the right health, ethical and environmental boxes. Switzerland is proving fertile ground for changing the menu, from a meat substitute based on pea protein to lettuce grown without soil or pesticides. Clare O’Dea digs in. Some of the new innovations have to be tasted to be believed. Like the chicken substitute being produced by the young team behind Planted AG in Zurich, a spin-off of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). Before I met co-founders Pascal Bieri and Lukas Böni, I popped into a Zurich café to try their product. I ate the plant-based chicken in a salad mix with cabbage, carrot, cucumber, edamame and peanuts. The verdict: looks, feels and tastes like chicken, even when served cold. Things are moving very fast for the young team behind Planted. It is just two years since cousins Bieri and Böni sat down together and sketched out a two page-summary of their scientific and business ...

  • It helps to be Swiss, says new boss of Palestinian refugee agency 

    Sun, 31 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Philippe Lazzarini has a tough job. He officially took up the position as head of UNRWA, the UN’s embattled Palestinian refugee agency, on April 1, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. As a veteran of UN humanitarian coordination, especially in the Middle East, he doesn’t think he was appointed because he is Swiss. But it helps, he tells swissinfo.ch. He also has plans to get the organisation back on track.  “In the Middle East, Switzerland is one of the nationalities that’s still perceived as not being politically biased,” says Lazzarini. “There is still a perception of a country that has carried for a long time the notion of neutrality. Having said that, it’s certainly not the reason why I have been appointed. But it helps to be Swiss in a region like this one.”  Indeed, the Middle East conflict seems intractable and is highly sensitive, as is the mandate of UNRWA, the UN Refugee and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.   Founded by a UN Resolution in 1949, UNRWA is ...

  • Is remote learning a model for the future?

    Sun, 31 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    How will technology-​delivered instruction affect learning? It’s still too early to reach a conclusion, but the implications for exams are clear, says ETH Zurich professor Elsbeth Stern. Since mid-​March, schools and universities worldwide have faced the challenge of converting their learning instruction to ICT (information and communications technology) almost overnight. Teachers who until recently have used Moodle merely for storing slides and texts are now communicating with learners via Zoom and WhatsApp.  At many institutions, including ETH, it’s working surprisingly well. Most teachers, whether at university or school, recognise that some of these digital methods will be adopted in the long term. Certainly, after presenting my lectures – hopefully to “real” students in the near future – I’ll be offering Zoom sessions for small groups at off-​peak times and weekends when we can go over any outstanding questions. Fair exams barely feasible But during the experience ...

  • Geneva's United Nations HQ a ghost town under lockdown

    Sat, 30 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The United Nations building in Geneva has been deserted since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. British photographer Mark Henley has ventured into the historic complex to capture the unique ghost town atmosphere.  The corridors and meeting rooms of the sprawling Palais des Nations, the UN’s second-biggest headquarters after New York, are usually full of hustle-and-bustle. The complex hosts 1,500 UN staff and regularly welcomes thousands of officials, experts and journalists for meetings. Each year, 2,500 international conferences and meetings are held in the western Swiss city, attended by around 200,000 delegates, including 4,500 heads of state, government and ministers.  But this year, on March 13, Covid-19 put a stop to business as usual at the Palais. The main session of the UN Human Rights Council was forced to suspend its work. Emergency restrictions were imposed on staff and the premises, in line with those in the rest of Switzerland. The huge 853,000m2 building ...

  • Fight over rights to Covid-19 drugs puts Switzerland in a tough spot

    Fri, 29 May 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    Switzerland is caught between established practice and global solidarity when it comes to paying for and rewarding medical innovation. The Alpine country’s economy and its self-professed identity as an innovation powerhouse rely heavily on the rights and rewards attached to patents. It has the most European patent applications per capita and performs well in rankings of patent quality, a large portion of which are in the biomedical field. This is why recent calls by global health advocates and some governments to loosen patent protections during the Covid-19 crisis to make drugs and vaccines widely available have caused some unease in Switzerland. As more countries back a more flexible patent regime for Covid-19, Switzerland is finding itself pitted between industry on the one hand and global solidarity on the other. At the World Health Assembly in Geneva a couple of weeks ago, the Swiss government supported a resolution that called for the “voluntary pooling and licensing of ...

  • What is the role of Swiss military observers?

    Fri, 29 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    In 1990 Switzerland sent military observers to work in a United Nations peacekeeping mission for the first time, a move that sparked debates in the neutral nation. Here’s a look at the history. What's this all about? In 1990 Switzerland contributed to a UN-peacekeeping mission for the first time. Thirty years later, some 27 Swiss military observers and support staff are active in missions around the world: in the Middle East (13), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2), South Sudan (1), Mali (6), Kashmir (3) and Western Sahara (2). May 29 is the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, an annual day dedicated to the work of soldiers and personnel deployed in conflict zones and working to further peace. The Swiss army officers who take part in these UN missions are unarmed. The tasks of the so-called “blue berets” and liaison officers include the monitoring of ceasefire agreements and acting as go-between for conflict parties. Staff officers are also deployed as military ...

  • How flying in and out of Switzerland will look post-Covid

    Thu, 28 May 2020 12:06:00 GMT

    Airports and airlines have outlined new safety measures as flights start to ramp up in Switzerland. Face masks are mainly recommended, but are in some cases compulsory, while social distancing measures may increase waiting times once passenger numbers increase. Airports While the wearing of masks is highly recommended, rather than compulsory, at Zurich and Geneva airports, police will have the power to insist on them being worn if people become too tightly packed together. Basel-Mulhouse airport says that face masks will be mandatory. All three airports have installed plexiglass screens and have increased cleaning services, focusing especially on surfaces that could be touched by many people, such as stair handrails and elevator buttons. Disinfectant hand dispensers will be made available for passengers. Floor markings have also been added to aid social distancing. Zurich says it will open extra passport control booths and make use of overflow lanes at security check. The ...

  • Geneva NGOs face uncertain future due to Covid-19 funding impact

    Thu, 28 May 2020 15:09:00 GMT

    The immediate impact of the pandemic on Geneva-based non-governmental organisations has been restrained, a survey reveals. But NGOs fear tough times ahead linked to funding.  Some 79% of NGOs have been forced to reduce their activities due to the pandemic, a survey published on Thursday shows. One in four have cut staff, but compared to other sectors of the economy, NGOs “seem to have been relatively spared in the short term”, said the authors, describing the impact as “moderate but real”.  Over half (54%) of the 125 NGOs – out of 450 operating in International Geneva – which answered the poll said the overall impact had been ‘mild’, while 44% described it as ‘severe’. One-quarter said they had been forced to cut staff, while another quarter said they would do so over the next six months. Recently, the Geneva Disarmament Platform announced it was closing after three years due to Covid pressures. But the survey authors did not find any others driven to such extremes. Around 5% ...

  • Government announces major easing of coronavirus restrictions

    Wed, 27 May 2020 13:13:00 GMT

    The Swiss government has announced a significant relaxation of restrictions and, as of June 19, an end to the "extraordinary situation" to deal with the coronavirus crisis. It said this was made possible by the low number of new infections in recent weeks. Interior Minister Alain Berset, who holds the health portfolio, said they were now around only 20 per day. An end to the extraordinary situation means powers will be handed back to the cantons. Simonetta Sommaruga, who holds the rotating presidency this year, told a press conference on Wednesday that parliament would also be responsible for deciding on coronavirus restrictions.  "We have managed to get the virus under control," said Sommaruga, and extended thanks to "everyone who has made it possible". "The rate of infection is low, the shops are open and the hospitals are ready," she told the press conference. So it was now a question of moving to a "new normal" in which the responsibility for ensuring continued protection ...

  • Swiss photographer captures the nature of changed borders

    Wed, 27 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Living in a small country surrounded by other states, borders feature in the daily lives of many Swiss and become a focal point while closed during the coronavirus outbreak. Swiss photographer Roger Eberhard captured images of former borders in a project that took over three years to complete, resulting in a book that has now become particularly relevant. The artist and publisher from Zurich said he wanted to make a book about borders to show “a visible and ever-changing cartographical puzzle of our world”. Eberhard sees country boundaries as “fluid” and tied to politics, citing how the number of countries in the world has changed since the 1960s. In light of entry bans, border walls and mass migration being regularly on the global news agenda, Eberhard wanted his photography to reinforce what he sees as the “transcience of these man-made markings”. He travelled from country to country to gather the images for ‘Human Territoriality’, published in March 2020. His aim was to ...

  • Will Covid-19 push Swiss multinationals forwards or back to business as usual?

    Fri, 29 May 2020 05:30:00 GMT

    Our analysis of what the biggest global companies in Switzerland are up to. This week: responsible business initiative back on the table, Lonza talks about vaccine production, and Kolmar under fire. The economy is getting back on solid footing here in Switzerland, giving many companies the nostalgic impulse to return to their pre-pandemic business ways. But is backwards what the people really want? The Responsible Business Initiative is headed back to parliament in June for another last-ditch effort at a counter proposal. If a public survey released this week is any indication, parliament will be under more pressure to reach a compromise or find itself at the mercy of Swiss voters, some 78% of whom support the initiative, according to the latest survey. That’s up 11 percentage points from February. This isn’t the only survey showing a more “woke” public. Market research firm Edelman called Covid-19 a “moment of reckoning” for business after its trust survey during the pandemic ...

  • Switzerland’s safety net must be there for all

    Wed, 27 May 2020 07:16:00 GMT

    Images of several thousand people queuing each weekend to receive food parcels in wealthy Geneva have circulated in the international press recently. The working poor and undocumented migrants in Switzerland have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. A group of concerned citizens in Geneva is calling for respect for migrants’ fundamental rights and for regularisation. For many foreign observers, the fundamental right to food is something that has always been observed in Switzerland. Yet recent distributions of food aid by the local authorities, NGOs and private associations at the Vernets sports centre in Geneva seem to have taken the international press by surprise. For almost a month now this trend has been visible and continues to grow. In the international capital of human rights, Switzerland’s second-biggest city, and in a country often praised for its excellent economic and social organisation, part of the population is in dire need of food. People who previously ...

  • Coronavirus fuels Swiss bicycling surge

    Tue, 26 May 2020 12:12:00 GMT

    While demand for public transport collapsed during Switzerland's partial lockdown, bicycle usage soared across the country. But greater acceptance of cycling nationwide will depend on further political decisions and transport planning.  Ernst Leuthold, the owner of a bike shop in Bern, can’t believe his eyes.  “It’s amazing to see all these people who haven’t been on a bike for years and then suddenly feel the need to do so,” he declared.  Daniel Schärer, director of 2roues Suisse, a trade association for two-wheel vehicles, concurs: “During the lockdown, bike shop repair workshops were extremely busy.” And it’s likely that the sales of bikes will take off in the coming months, he added. Most of these new clients probably discovered cycling for fun whilst at home. But “there are undoubtedly others who turned to bikes, particular electric bikes, to go to work”, he added. If bike usage is to continue to grow, it will most likely be people who combine cycling with other forms ...

  • What’s the point of multilateralism? The UN at 75

    Tue, 26 May 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    This special episode of the Inside Geneva podcast looks at the role of the United Nations, 75 years after its founding. As the collective memory of the Second World War fades, how much do we know about the international laws and conventions designed to protect civilians during health crises and prohibit atrocities? Do we still think those laws are worthwhile, or is “my country first” a more appealing policy? And where does that leave multilateralism? Host Imogen Foulkes and guests look at the highs, and the lows, of the UN over the last 75 years. You can read more from Imogen on the topic here, in her monthly column.  And for more insights from Switzerland's international city, subscribe to Inside Geneva on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

  • Swiss hospitals and start-ups test disinfecting robots

    Tue, 26 May 2020 14:15:00 GMT

    Self-driving disinfecting robots with a UV-C lamp tower are currently being tested in hospitals, but the process could be applied to other closed environments. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill or inactivate micro-organisms by disrupting their DNA. As the light is dangerous to humans too, the robot only works in uninhabited environments.  In order to save energy, the Swiss start up Rovenso is working on a robot that detects places frequently touched by people, which it then targets with its UV-C light. This option could interest closed environments that don’t need a thorough disinfection, like offices or other work areas. Prototypes are currently being tested, but orders haven't increased, as hospitals and workplaces are still busy fighting the coronavirus.

  • The UN at 75: What’s different, what’s the same?

    Tue, 26 May 2020 08:00:00 GMT

    Do you know anyone who has never heard of the United Nations? Probably not. For most of the world’s population, the UN has been around our entire lives. But, do you know anyone who doesn’t really know what the UN does? The answer to that question is almost certainly a lot more ambivalent.  Some know it as the body which helps the most vulnerable in a crisis, some may have heard of disagreements and stalemates at the UN security council, others may think of the UN as a vast - bloated even - organisation which spreads its tentacles into too many aspects of life. All three are at least partially true, but none entirely accurate.  The United Nations was created on October 24, 1945 from the ashes, shock and slaughter of the Second World War. The solemn ceremony in San Francisco brought together just 51 nations, because large parts of the world were still colonised. With hindsight, it is understandable that countries which had fought so bitterly for six long years would want to ...

  • Telework likely to continue after Covid-19, but not on a large scale

    Mon, 25 May 2020 15:00:00 GMT

    In Switzerland the Covid-19 pandemic has led to more people working from home, giving a boost to productivity and quality of life. But the trend may not continue in the same way once the crisis is over. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly shaken up the world of work. In Switzerland, many employers expanded remote working, or even introduced it for the first time, after the government imposed lockdown measures in mid-March.  Should companies cover some of the costs of telework? According to a recent Federal Court decision reported by the newspaper SonntagsZeitung, Swiss companies must cover part of the rent of employees who work from home. The case was brought by an employee of a Zurich firm before the Covid-19 pandemic. But experts disagree on the applicability of this ruling to the wave of telework observed during the crisis.  Working from home had already been gaining in popularity in recent years. In 2019, almost a quarter of the Swiss working population worked from home ...

  • Studying the new viruses that emerge from melting ice

    Mon, 25 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Could melting ice release potentially harmful bacteria and viruses into the atmosphere? Researchers have identified about a thousand micro-organisms – many of them unknown until now – in permafrost in the Swiss Alps. One of the obvious lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is that technological and medical progress has not eliminated the fact that humans remain extremely vulnerable to as yet unknown pathogenic agents. While we are still trying to find the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2, researchers from around the world are warning that a new potential health threat could be hiding not in animals or laboratories, but under the ice. Due to rising temperatures and increased usage of the subsoil, old micro-organisms trapped in ice and permafrost – the layer of ground that is permanently frozen – could be released into the air and reactivated, with unknown consequences. Deadly pathogens emerging from the ice: theoretical scenario or real risk? This is not science-fiction. In 2016, on the ...

  • How the Swiss have navigated crisis (mis)communication during Covid-19

    Sun, 24 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    From red and pink posters in public squares to ministers’ frequent appearances on the nightly news, officials in Switzerland have worked hard to gain control of communication about the pandemic. Has effective messaging helped flatten the curve?  “We must act as quickly as possible but as slowly as necessary.”   It’s no accident that this statement by the minister responsible for health, Alain Berset, as he announced the government’s lockdown exit strategy in April landed not just on the pages of newspapers but also on a t-shirt sold to raise money for charity.   The message was a perfect example of the clear, measured and earnest tone that the country’s authorities have tried to strike publicly from the start of the coronavirus outbreak.  “It was received positively all over the country,” said Regula Hänggli Fricker, a professor of mass media and communication at the University of Fribourg.   Clarity, consistency and transparency are all key ingredients of crisis ...

  • When Switzerland began distancing from Europe

    Sat, 23 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    When the Second World War ended 75 years ago, large parts of Europe and the world lay in ruins. Switzerland, meanwhile, was still in decent shape. Historian Jakob Tanner revisits this post-war period and its consequences for Swiss-European relations. swissinfo.ch: In 1945, entire countries had been reduced to rubble and ash. What was the end of the war like for Switzerland? Jakob Tanner: There was a great sense of relief, with church bells sounding everywhere. Society was in limbo, with no idea what was to come. Economically, Switzerland stood out as still having intact infrastructure, and functioning industry. At the same time, the atmosphere was polarised – since the middle of the war the labour movement had been growing, and a struggle for the future was beginning. In general, the end of the war was marked by a sense of great openness. swissinfo.ch: What role did Switzerland play in the Second World War? J.T.: Switzerland couldn’t remove itself completely from the European ...

  • Banking on a long life: longevity as a financial service

    Sat, 23 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Quite a few new digital financial services are challenging traditional banks by targeting niche groups of customers. The theory is that they stand a better chance of getting people to switch banks if they aim tailor-made services at groups who feel they are being under-served. The danger of putting too many eggs in one basket is that the target group may be too small to achieve substantial growth. What about people who want to live for a long time in the best possible shape? This is the target group of an enterprise called Longevity Bank – which doesn’t yet have a banking license but is applying for one in the UK and is poised to ask for a Swiss fintech license. Longevity may seem a curious subject in the middle of a pandemic that has a higher mortality rate among the elderly than other age groups. But maybe this makes longevity a more compelling subject right now. The Longevity banking project is part of an international group, which includes a Hong Kong entity called Deep ...

  • What remains of Swiss democracy after Covid-19 measures?

    Fri, 22 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    On March 16 the Swiss government declared an “extraordinary situation”. People had to stay at home for two months. The spring session of parliament was cancelled. The May referendum was postponed. The government ruled alone by emergency decree. Where does that leave direct democracy?  Martina Mousson*, a political scientist from the gfs.bern research institute, is familiar with psychological phenomena in times of crisis. After the Spanish Flu, which claimed millions of lives, the Roaring Twenties broke out, with many people celebrating excessively. The idea that the Covid-19 pandemic could be followed by something similar is therefore quite tempting.  The government’s emergency decrees are supported by the Epidemics Act. This authorised the government to declare the extraordinary situation on March 16 and to govern without parliamentary control.  After the spring session of parliament was interrupted, the two chambers regrouped at the beginning of May – not in the federal ...

  • How Swiss police approach coronavirus crowd control

    Thu, 21 May 2020 12:00:00 GMT

    Now that the lockdown measures have been relaxed, people in Switzerland are eagerly enjoying more days and evenings out. But as proprietors and guests fail – or forget – to comply with social distancing rules, some wonder why the police aren’t cracking down harder. The combination of fine spring weather and a wave of re-openings has lured many people back to parks, shops, bars and restaurants. Sometimes there are far too many, considering the Covid-19 restrictions limiting groups to five people and calling for two metres of space between individuals. + Covid-19 and the situation in Switzerland For example, large crowds partied for hours in Basel on Saturday night. The lack of police presence sparked criticism from many, including the bar that posted this video online: Boisterous crowding like that witnessed in Basel is a no-go as Swiss authorities try to prevent a second wave of the deadly virus. Yet the images of the partygoers didn’t surprise Urs Hofmann, head of the ...

  • Why more women than men have got Covid-19 during lockdown

    Thu, 21 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Data reveals that more women than men have been infected with Covid-19 since distancing measures started in Switzerland. What’s behind the phenomenon? When the coronavirus first started spreading throughout Switzerland, men represented a larger share of confirmed cases. The number of women infected started inching upwards to reach an even gender split by the time the lockdown went into effect on March 16. Then, as businesses and much of public life shut down over the weeks that followed, more women than men became infected with Covid-19. There were around 13,800 cases among men (46% of the total) and around 16,500 among women (54% of the total) by mid-May, according to Swiss public health statistics. A few other countries have seen a similar phenomenon. The German-language Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reports that women represent 53% of cases in Italy, 52% in Germany and 57% in both Spain and Sweden. According to a policy brief released over the weekend by the Swiss National ...

  • If I could share the Alps with my father again

    Thu, 21 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Locked down in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Scott Haas can still see as clear as day the mountain peaks surrounding his second home in the Swiss Alps. They are what inspire the writer and clinical psychologist. When it came time to start the ascent of Mount Pilatus, my father said he was afraid of going into a cable car, afraid of going to the top of the mountain. This made the trip for me even more desirable. Anything my father feared or disliked, I wanted to do. It’s still that way even now with him gone for so many years. What would he think of me having a pizza with anchovies, which he hated? What would he think of my e-bike, even if I told him it was made in his native country, Germany? Probably not much. Too fast! Not safe! Why was he so afraid of going up the mountain? I was 13 years old when we were in Switzerland on our first visit. We had entered the country from Germany where we got to see the Bavarian village where he had spent his childhood. From my lofty cable car ...

  • Swiss corona protests: conspiracy theories vs political rights

    Wed, 20 May 2020 07:28:00 GMT

    Switzerland is now well into phase two of its three-stage loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, but this hasn’t stopped citizens gathering to protest against the government’s measures. For three weekends running, they have defied a ban on political demonstrations – as well as a general ban on meetings of more than five people – and have gathered in small but loud numbers to protest the restrictions on freedom. What do they stand for? On one hand, the activists are concerned about the suspension of political rights and the extraordinary powers taken up by government to combat the virus. “This is not a demonstration, it’s a vigil,” one of the Bern organisers, Alex Gagneux, told swissinfo.ch last week. For him, such a “vigil” is necessary in front of parliament because “the constitution has been suspended” by the government’s “disproportionate” actions. Posters at the events carried slogans like “RIP democracy, 1291-2020” (referring to the year Switzerland was apparently born) and ...

  • Lonza ‘scaling up’ Moderna's promising Covid-19 vaccine process

    Wed, 20 May 2020 06:26:00 GMT

    Swiss company Lonza has signed a major deal with US biotech Moderna Therapeutics to help produce a promising Covid-19 vaccine using new mRNA technology. Lonza CEO Albert Baehny says the firm can rise to the challenge of producing hundreds of millions of doses starting this year, if trials continue to prove successful. On Monday, Modern Therapeutics released results of the phase one trials of its mRNA vaccine – the first of its kind – in humans. They are giving Baehny reason to be optimistic, albeit cautiously. “The results are excellent. We understand the technology and the manufacturing process. We now hope that phases two and three go well,” he says. The trial data were limited with only a small number of participants and some vaccine experts interviewed by health news site STATnews say that based on the information available it is difficult to know how impressive the results are. But the vaccine did generate some immune response. That’s good news for both Moderna and ...

  • Does saving bee colonies mean breaking with tradition?

    Wed, 20 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Honey bees in Switzerland face many threats to their survival. Experts have presented new ideas more geared towards bee welfare than honey production, but they may struggle to gain acceptance among traditional beekeepers.  In Switzerland there are about 18,000 beekeepers with 165,000 honey bee colonies. The bee density is high compared to other European countries, at 4.0 colonies per km2. Germany has 1.9, France 2.5 and the UK only 1.3. The Swiss figures are from 2014, the others from 2010. (Source: Agroscope)  Honeybees and wild bees are responsible for 80% of plant pollination so they play a key role in the production of food. But they are threatened by loss of habitat, diseases and pesticides.   "More than any other insect, the honey bee has the power to capture our hearts and connect us emotionally with the wonders and mysteries of nature” - Thomas Seeley A group of American and German biologists has argued for years that bees would be able to defend themselves better ...

  • How Swiss grandparents are handling coronavirus restrictions

    Tue, 19 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    Grandparents can hug their grandchildren again, but they’re still not advised to look after them, says the Swiss health authority managing the coronavirus crisis. The contradiction is unsettling for families in Switzerland, and highlights the key role of grandparents in the country. In canton Bern, 62-year-old Heidi Klossner Biglen was delighted to receive official permission to hug her grandchildren again. She and her husband normally look after them two days a month. They recently met for the first time in two months – with joy and a little uncertainty, as the grandchildren had gotten used to keeping a distance. For Klossner Biglen, time spent with her grandchildren is a chance to watch them grow up and to share life experiences. “We learn from them and they learn from us,” she says. Grandmother Barbara Müller*, 63, has been looking after her grandson again for over a week now. She felt liberated when Daniel Koch, the government delegate on the Covid-19 pandemic, said it was ...

  • Ethical artificial intelligence: Could Switzerland take the lead?

    Mon, 18 May 2020 09:00:00 GMT

    The debate on contact-tracing highlights the urgency of tackling unregulated technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). With a strong democracy and reputation for first-class research, Switzerland has the potential to be at the forefront of shaping ethical AI.   What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? "Artificial intelligence is either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity," the prominent scientist, Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018, once said. An expert group set up by the European Commission presented a draft of ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI at the end of 2018, but as of yet there is no agreed global strategy for defining common principles, which would include rules on transparency, privacy protection, fairness, and justice.  Thanks to its unique features – a strong democracy, its position of neutrality, and world-class research – Switzerland is well positioned to play a leading role in shaping the future of AI that adheres to ethical standards. The ...

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