In fact, according to an article in the Financial Times, Switzerland has tested most out of any country during the crisis, even though screening was not one of the government’s priorities in the epidemic’s early stages. As "contact tracing" gradually emerged as a crucial component of crisis management, Switzerland rapidly increased its stock of tests, thanks in particular to the involvement of the pharmaceutical industry, and especially pharmaceutical giant Roche. After a considerable build-up of its production of epidemiological tests, the Basel-based company is now developing a new serological test to detect Covid-19 antibodies.
The two largest pharmaceutical companies in Europe, Novartis and Roche, are Swiss, which puts the country in a strong position in the race for vaccines. The caution that characterizes Swiss political leaders is, however, also present in the industrial sector: the CEOs of both pharmaceutical giants have said that they do not believe a vaccine will be available before 2021.
An exit strategy based on a call for individual responsibility
On April 16, following a flattening of the contamination curve, the Federal Council presented its plan for a gradual resumption of activity. It was constructed around the symbolic date of May 11, which president Emmanuel Macron had chosen as the exit horizon for France’s lockdown a few days earlier.
Hairdressers, DIY- and gardening stores were allowed to reopen from April 27 onward, but May 11 represented the real start of a "new normal". Since May 11, the cantons can choose to reopen schools; museums, stores, bars and restaurants can reopen as long as they avoid groups of more than four people. Restrictions on entry into the country are gradually being lifted and, from June 8, all activities can resume as normal, with the exception of events involving more than 1,000 people, which remain banned until the end of August.
In contrast with its European neighbors, Switzerland seems to be approaching the end of the crisis with a remarkably laid-back posture. Normal life is resuming more quickly than elsewhere in Europe. It is also not compulsory to wear a mask, though it is recommended on public transportation during rush hours. In addition, a surprising debate rouses the Swiss Confederation since Daniel Koch, the country’s most respected epidemiologist, declared that grandparents can hug their grandchildren again, as the latter do not appear to contribute to the spread of the virus.
This gradual return to normalcy is accompanied by measures aimed at strengthening the authorities’ capacity to monitor the chain of contamination. A pilot of the Swiss application DP-3T, developed by the Federal Institutes of Technology of Lausanne and Zürich, is set to launch in mid-May. Its use is voluntary and anonymous, and is based on Bluetooth technology without geolocation. The user receives a notification if they have been in close contact (less than two meters away for at least fifteen minutes) with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19. The system is decentralized, meaning that data is not stored on a single server.
According to political scientist Marcus Freitag, a researcher at the University of Bern, the trust Swiss people have in their institutions, and the government in its population, are the two main components of the crisis exit strategy. But despite the government’s calls for individual responsibility, the easing of measures could jeopardize this harmony, as shown by the numerous demonstrations organized on May 9 in the main cities to denounce the measures imposed by the government as violations of fundamental rights.
"We want to act as quickly as possible and as slowly as necessary." This motto of the Swiss government is similar to the phrase "festina lente" ("make haste slowly"), which Suetonius attributed to Emperor Augustus as a principle of good government. It is an apt summary of the Swiss government’s demeanor in the face of the epidemic: far from the martial rhetoric and coercive measures advocated by various other European leaders, Switzerland approached the crisis with calm and moderation, thereby limiting the number of deaths and strengthening the trust the Swiss have in their institutions. It may not have been more prepared for this epidemic than any other European country, but Switzerland seems to be more accepting of the presence of risk within its society.
With the collaboration of Margaux Tellier
Copyright: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP