Swiss voters back COVID-19 law amid surge in infections

Early results show two-thirds of voters supported legislation to impose strict coronavirus restrictions.

A woman holds a banner during a protest against a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) law
The vote on the country's COVID-19 law comes as Switzerland faces a steep rise in cases [Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]

Swiss voters have back legislation to impose the use of a COVID-19 certificate that lets only people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative attend public events and gatherings.

Early results on Sunday showed about two-thirds of voters supported the law, with market researchers GFS Bern projecting 63 percent backing across the country.

Results from 16 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons showed 61.9 percent had voted in favour of the law, on a 64 percent turnout.

The referendum offers a relatively rare bellwether of public opinion specifically on the issue of government policy to fight the coronavirus in Europe, currently the global epicentre of the pandemic.

The vote on the country’s COVID-19 law, which also has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, comes 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. On Sunday, police fenced off the seat of government and parliament in Bern in anticipation of protests.

The campaign saw repeated protests, often led by the so-called “Freiheitstrychler”, or “Freedom ringers” – men dressed in white shirts embroidered with edelweiss flowers and with two large cowbells suspended from a yoke resting on their shoulders.

Some of the demonstrations led to violent clashes with police, who used rubber bullets and tear gas to rein in the crowds.

Michelle Cailler, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Constitution group which opposed the law, said that granting such powers to the government was “extremely dangerous for democracy”.

“What is very embarrassing is that this law violates a number of constitutional rights, and in particular Article 10 on personal freedom with this COVID certificate, which establishes a disguised mandatory vaccination,” she told AFP news agency after the vote.

“So it’s extremely shocking for a country like Switzerland.”

Five-fold increase

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” 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 – with an upward curve like those in Germany and Austria.

The spike in cases comes as dozens of countries reimposed a ban on travellers from several southern African countries because of a new coronavirus strain.

The Omicron variant is a potentially more contagious variant of COVID-19. It was first detected in South Africa and has been dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

It has seen been detected in several parts of the world, including in a number of European countries.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies