Switzerland remains one of the least vaccinated countries in western Europe, though they have managed to make it to roughly 65%. Now, as with many other European nations, they are facing a sustained surge in new COVID cases, with infection rates rising as much as 40% each week for several straight weeks. So what does the government plan to do about it? They already instituted an immunity passport system requiring proof of vaccination to engage in many common activities. Some suspected that the Swiss Health Minister might attempt to implement even harsher restrictions such as making the vaccine mandatory, as was done in Austria. But in reality, none of that is happening. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. This weekend the Swiss people are heading to the polls to vote on a referendum that would remove the previously mandated “COVID certificates” if the measure passes. And judging by the size of some of the anti-vaccination protests that have been roiling the streets of Bern and other Swiss cities, it very well might. (BBC)
On Sunday, Switzerland votes on getting rid of some Covid restrictions altogether.
From the start of the pandemic the Swiss government has performed a tricky balancing act, trying to introduce measures to control the spread of Covid, while still staying true to Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, in which the government has little formal power and the people have the final say…
And so, when the certificate was introduced and Covid tests stopped being free, life for the unvaccinated became difficult and even going out for a beer was suddenly expensive.
The government hoped the measures would encourage people to get vaccinated. Instead, many took to the streets and others gathered enough signatures to challenge the Covid certificate in Sunday’s referendum.
The BBC does a good job of laying out the reasons that pandemic restrictions in Switzerland have been difficult to manage from the beginning. A lot of it is cultural in nature with the two primary populations of the Swiss demonstrating different traits. The German-speaking Swiss in the lowlands have a history of believing that naturally acquired immunity is best, so many of them don’t care for the mandates. But the Alpine Swiss in the mountainous region are described as having a very independent nature, leading them to not want a government with too much control over them.
Those factors combined to form the current Swiss government which has very limited powers. Any new law or rule they put in place can be immediately challenged via referendum and rejected if the people don’t care for it. When the government instituted the COVID certificates, they quickly made them a requirement for activities such as going to bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, museums, sporting events, and even face-to-face college classes.
That didn’t go over well at all. As the BBC describes it, some masses of people began painting their faces and rallying in the streets. Others started going door-to-door and collecting signatures to end the mandate. They quickly had more than they needed and the vote was scheduled for Sunday.
The one thing I find myself wondering is whether or not the support for this measure will remain as strong as it was previously now that the new Omicron variant is on the loose and breaking out of Africa. (They already confirmed two cases of it in the UK.) Will the people who were previously supporting revoking the immunity passport mandate stick to their guns or will the threat of yet another variant cause them to have a change of heart or perhaps sit out the vote at home?
As an interesting side note, Robert F Kennedy Jr (nephew of JFK and son of Bobby Kennedy) has apparently become something of a cult figure among the vaccine resistance in Switzerland. It’s being reported that he showed up as a featured speaker at a rally this week in the city of Bern where tens of thousands were in attendance. When he finished, the applause and cheering were described as deafening and sustained. Meanwhile, someone at the rally parodied the country’s Health Minister as the devil, complete with horns.
So if you think the situation is getting out of hand in America and Australia, there’s even more excitement in Europe. And Switzerland seems to be leading the way.