Swiss vote to approve Covid restrictions as infections rise

The referendum canvassed public opinion on legislation that imposes the use of a special coronavirus certificate for entry to public events.

A school pupil wears a face mask
A school pupil wears a face mask

Swiss voters have given clear backing to legislation that has introduced a system with special Covid-19 certificates under which only people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative can attend public events and gatherings.

Final results on Sunday showed 62% of voters supporting the legislation, which is already in force. The referendum offered a rare bellwether of public opinion on the issue of government policy to fight the spread of coronavirus in Europe, which is currently the global epicentre of the pandemic.

The vote on the country’s “Covid-19 law,” which has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, came as Switzerland — like many other nations in Europe — faces a steep rise in coronavirus cases.

The Swiss federal government, unlike others, has not responded with new restrictions. Analysts said it did not want to stir up more opposition to its anti-Covid-19 policies before they faced Sunday’s test at the ballot box — but that if Swiss voters gave a thumbs-up, the government may well ratchet up its anti-Covid efforts.

Protesters gather for a demonstration against civil restrictions and the Covid-19 vaccine in Geneva in October (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP)

Of the country’s 26 cantons (states), only two — Schwyz and Appenzell Innerrhoden, both conservative rural regions in eastern Switzerland — voted against the legislation.

Josef Ender, a spokesman for one of the groups that opposed it, told SRF public radio “it was important that the Swiss population could form an opinion on the tightening of the Covid law”. He maintained that “even if there is a ‘yes’” to the legislation, it violates parts of the country’s constitution.

Turnout on Sunday was 65.7%, an unusually high figure in a country that holds referendums several times a year.

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities had warned of a rising “fifth wave” of infections in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit neighbours Austria and Germany, at about two-thirds of the population. Infection rates have soared in recent weeks.

The seven-day average case count in Switzerland shot up to more than 5,200 per day from mid-October to mid-November, a more than five-fold increase. Austria, meanwhile, has imposed a national lockdown to fight the rising infections.

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