Thursday, October 22, 2020
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TCW’s Brexit Watch

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Our regular report from Bern, Switzerland 

THE Germans have the advantage that the Swiss drug company Roche has a lot of its labs in Germany because Germans are plentiful, cheap and speak roughly the same language. What no one is admitting on this side of the Grenze/frontier/River Rhine is whether or not the Germans are sharing their good fortune.

There is also a question mark over the Germans’ counting. Their Robert Koch Institute provides daily numbers for infections, deaths and patients clear of the virus. These numbers are significantly lower than Johns Hopkins University reports for Germany. Johns Hopkins’s figures for Switzerland are identical with those released on SwissInfo by the Federal authorities. At time of writing there had been been 27,202 cases and 1,366 deaths from Covid-19 in Switzerland.

Compare those figures with Johns Hopkins’s for Germany, 143,460 cases and 4,451 deaths; the Robert Koch Institute’s are lower. Day by day links can be found below.

I find it hard to accept the German figures for deaths. Switzerland has experienced difficulties obtaining tests and protective clothing, largely because the Germans banned the export of these items. This led to a row between the Swiss and Italy over a consignment that the Italians stopped on the frontier with Canton Tessin. All that still leaves the Swiss with possibly the best-quality health service in the world, which still has state support but effectively is private for everyone and paid for through insurance. Are we really expected to believe that the Swiss health service has suffered a death rate three times higher than its colleagues in the big canton next door? The Germans do not carry out autopsies on Covid-19 victims, which may explain the difference.

Johns Hopkins University accepts the Swiss and the British figures as given. Perhaps the media in Britain should ignore the German claims and just compare with Switzerland. Sixty-eight million and eight million people. Then the NHS figures and those of France, for example, can be viewed with truer perspective.

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Swexit: Magdalena Blocher (see my last TCW Brexit Watch) scored on Thursday afternoon when the Federal Council – well, Simonetta Sommeruga and Alain Berset – announced that hair salons and garden centres could open in ten days. That’s good news for your correspondent because Landi, the Swiss Land Institute, runs not only the best garden centres but excellent general stores which sell everything a house needs, including excellent wine at reasonable prices. Mrs Hill and I have emailed Magdalena Blocher and asked if she would like to offer free face masks to all tennis players in Switzerland. Copy to King Roger, Stan, Belinda and team.

The Sontag Zeitung reports that the Federal Council are discussing whether to open restaurants as well as hairdressers and garden centres. Huge amounts of plants will become compost without a relaxation. There is also talk of schools reopening on May 11.

Pressure to open up the economy is largely from the Swiss People’s Party who more than any other party represent small and medium business.

British ministers who face the media may wish to spare a thought for Karin Keller Sutter, Federal Councillor for Justice and Police. Welwoche, the weekly,carried a story that someone in the media said she looked as though she just stepped out of the hair salon chair. Instead of ignoring it, her press spokesman issued a statement that her last hairdo was on March 9. Surely, ladies, isn’t that a worse thing to say?

The news of a hint of Swexit at last was covered by SwissInfo –

The federal government announced measures on April 16 aimed at combating the pandemic. The deliberate approach to loosening the lockdown is based on recommendations from experts and the weighing of a number of factors, the government said, including the need to continue protecting the public, particularly those at high risk, and the economic benefits of a gradual lifting of measures.

In the first phase, which will begin on April 27, hair salons, physiotherapists, hospital outpatient services, medical and dental offices, florists, DIY shops and garden centres will re-open with precautionary measures in place. This may include wearing protective face masks.

Measures that currently restrict funeral services to immediate family will be lifted during this phase. Food shops and supermarkets will be able to sell non-essential items once more.

Two days after this first phase is slated to begin, the government will make a decision on whether to proceed with the second phase, which would begin on May 11. Schools for children of compulsory-school age would re-open, along with all shops and markets.

A third phase would start on June 8 and see the re-opening of upper secondary and vocational schools, plus universities and other higher education institutions. Further decisions on this phase, including the possible lifting of bans on entertainment and leisure facilities, such as museums and libraries, will be taken at the end of May.

The government will decide at a future sitting of the Federal Council when to allow large-scale events to take place again.

To protect staff during the phase-out of lockdown measures, employers must allow those at especially high risk to work from home, the government said on April 16. If telework is not possible, then employers must adapt the work environment and procedures. However, high-risk persons can also refuse to work if they consider the risk to be too high; they will be entitled to leave with pay.

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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