Lockdown could take longer

The exit restrictions are working, the epidemic is slowing down in Switzerland. Therefore, two weeks after the lockdown, the call for a loosening becomes louder. But the Federal Council and experts are braking.

Closed due to the corona crisis: a restaurant on Zurich's Langstrasse.

Closed due to the corona crisis: a restaurant on Zurich’s Langstrasse.

Annick Ramp / NZZ

The momentum has broken: the number of new infections in Switzerland has been stabilizing for several days. In an international comparison it becomes clear that the spread curve in Germany is somewhat flatter than in Italy or Germany and significantly flatter than in the USA. The number of cases doubles only about every seven days in Switzerland (compared to around two to three days at the beginning of the outbreak in Switzerland). The worst forecasts that the Federal Office of Public Health made a few weeks ago have not come true. The extraordinary situation, which the Federal Council announced almost two weeks ago, and the associated restrictions have an effect. That is the good news.

Easter weather doesn’t go well with «stay at home»

But the cautious report of success has a downside: in many places there is a vague feeling that the worst may already have been overcome. This could quickly reduce the willingness to continue to comply with the rules of conduct as consistently as in the past two weeks. After a lot was new, the days with home office and Netflix evenings are now repeated. Week 3 of the extraordinary situation is therefore a matter of patience. To make matters worse, the Easter holidays are approaching with significantly higher temperatures. “Stay at home!” – that fits badly with the Easter spring mood.

At the same time, the situation is becoming increasingly difficult for the economy. 757,000 people are now affected by short-time work – around eight times as much as at the height of the financial crisis ten years ago. Countless companies are struggling to survive. According to Valentin Vogt, President of the Swiss Employers’ Association, told the NZZ am Sonntag that the banks have already received 30,000 loan applications as part of the federal aid package. Finance minister Ueli Maurer told the “Sonntags-Blick” that if things continued at this pace, “we would be imposed in ten days at the latest”. The 20 billion francs for companies are scarce and the federal government may have to add more.

Open shops again?

This increases the pressure from business and bourgeois politicians to return to normal as quickly as possible. SVP parliamentary group leader Thomas Aeschi said on Sunday in various media that he wanted to gradually ease the restrictions on the economy after April 19: From this day onwards, according to Aeschi, all businesses such as hairdressers, garden centers, butchers, electronics and do-it-iters should -Yourself shops, but also about dental practices will be opened drop by drop, he told the “Sonntags-Zeitung”. In the “NZZ am Sonntag” he added that this opening should be accompanied by hygiene requirements, for example by wearing masks in public. FDP parliamentary group president Beat Walti said that the first easing should take place gradually, “as soon as the peak of new infections is reached and if the protection of the risk groups is guaranteed”.

Distance learning is also becoming longer for schools, the more of a stress test. The schools are assuming that the closings will continue on April 19 for the period specified by the Federal Council. However, experts point out that homeschooling is not possible for a long time without increasing the inequality of opportunities. The final exams also pose a problem: Because nobody knows what will happen after April 19, it is unclear whether the exams can be taken at all. Since children are little affected by Covid-19, the disparity between limitation and harm is particularly great for them.

Test, isolate, quarantine

It is therefore not surprising that the Federal Council and the Federal Office of Public Health have spoken more and more slogans in the past few days. Health minister Alain Berset has said several times in the past few days that he is not yet in the middle of the marathon. Switzerland had to be careful that the forces reached the finish line. In fact, the number of infections is still increasing sharply – the BAG reports 1123 new cases on Sunday alone. The epidemic has not yet reached its peak in Switzerland. In comparison to the size of the population, there are even an above-average number of infected people in this country.

All experts therefore warn against prematurely lifting the state of emergency – and thus risking the return of the wave. «We have to get out of there as soon as possible. I think testing, isolating, and contact quarantines are possible. But the numbers have to go down, subito, otherwise it will be extremely difficult, »tweeted epidemiologist Marcel Salathé from ETH Lausanne.

A delegation from the Federal Council made it clear to the group presidents last week that even after April 19 there was no prospect of a return to normal. The focus is now increasingly on how a cautious return of public life could be made possible with a mixture of extensive tests, consistent isolation of suspected cases – and new digital forms of contact tracing. For example, economists at the University of Zurich calculated that it would be worthwhile to run 13 million tests to prevent just one week of lockdown.

The Federal Office of Public Health is already using cell phone data to check how many people are in public spaces. However, it is questionable whether the necessary test capacities can be built up at all. In addition, questions of data protection law arise with contact tracing forms with the smartphone.

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