DESPITE all the flip-flopping over the Covid passports being forced upon us, there’s no mistaking the direction of travel. Masks, booster jabs, Covid passports, vaccinating children, without which there will be more lockdown punishment. All are waiting for us just round that nasty winter corner and it seems there’s nothing we can do about it.
Several European countries have already introduced some sort of Covid pass. The Scottish Parliament has voted in favour of implementation for nightclubs and other crowded venues. Negative tests will not be accepted; the Scottish government intention is to boost vaccine uptake.
To my dismay and even anger, the authorities in Switzerland, where I live, are well along the road to a similar destination. Since Monday this week, people must show a Covid certificate, issued to those who have been vaccinated, tested or recovered from the coronavirus (but not to those who are healthy) to access indoor spaces such as restaurants, bars, gyms and museums, because of a fourth wave that is putting pressure on hospitals. It is claimed that Switzerland now has the highest incidence rate in Europe of new cases per day, and this is blamed on the highly infectious Delta variant affecting they say ‘unvaccinated people, mainly in the 10-29 year age group’. Almost 53 per cent of the population have been twice jabbed; now plans are in motion to extend vaccines to the 12-plus age group.
This repressive resumption is in spite of the fact that Swiss voters do have a say in how the Covid pandemic is handled by their government. In a June referendum, already reported in TCW Defending Freedom, 60 per cent of voters approved of the Covid law adopted by politicians last September to deal with the financial and logistical fallout from the pandemic. Measures had been relatively effective, and by the end of January, most public areas had been reopened, subject to the wearing of masks. The option of renewing more stringent regulations remained, however, and opponents were already warning of the potential for ‘creep’ in government power.
With the restored imposition of strict regulations, many Swiss are not happy. To date, 186,000 signatures have been collected to force a further referendum challenging the law underpinning many of the government’s Covid-related measures. Campaigners claim that making participation in society dependent on whether or not an individual is vaccinated is unconstitutional, reprehensible and unjustified by any imminent threat. If the signatures are validated, the referendum will take place on November 28.
On a visit last weekend to a hotel in Appenzell, a canton in the north east of Switzerland, we found ourselves caught up in the transition. As unvaccinated residents, we were warmly received, but reminded apologetically (‘We don’t have any choice . . .’) that while we were more than welcome to enjoy dinner in their excellent restaurant on the Sunday evening, by Monday morning we would have to sit outside on the terrace to get any breakfast.
We had anticipated being sent ‘outside in the cold’, but the absurdities were plentiful. We were allowed in (masked up) to the breakfast bar to choose our food and drinks; we were served outside by the same waitress (unmasked) as was serving the permitted residents (some masked, some not) inside. Our chairs were provided with warm woollen blankets (another ‘unclean’ guest slumped at the next table enveloped from neck to knees). A chat with the waitress revealed that she too was unvaccinated, but had made an appointment for her first jab ‘out of consideration to her colleagues’; more likely to ensure that she would keep her job. Upstairs, the room maids were cheerfully about their work, all unmasked.
We wondered how the hotel was going to cope during the winter season. Perhaps the unvaxxed would be expected to clear the snow away before sitting down for their al fresco breakfasts.
Other conversations revealed deeper concerns. The unofficial view is that the certificate requirement cannot be enforced, because there is no federal law to do so. Legally it can be only a recommendation. Government sources claim that the emergency Covid powers cover this eventuality.
Even on the political front, there are significant reservations this time round. Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, from the conservative Swiss People’s Party, said it would be ‘difficult’ to require people to present a Covid certificate when entering smaller venues such as bars, restaurants and gyms, although it might be viable for large events. He called into question the political and social consequences of such an approach: ‘It is not the task of the State to protect everyone from death and disease. We must not create too many dependencies.’
Maurer has also expressed the belief that the State should play only a limited role in vaccination, noting that in many circles, there are people who do not want the jab. ‘I come from the countryside, where people are very critical. It’s not just eccentrics and conspiracy theorists, but upright Swiss people who are now saying the State is going too far.’ The most recent demonstration, in Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city, saw thousands on the streets, while in previous demonstrations in the capital Bern, banners stated ‘No compulsory vaccination, no certificate, no division’. In addition there are concerns in the hospitality industry. Restaurateurs fear at least a 30 per cent drop in business.
The notices are everywhere now, and the restaurant terrace at our branch of the supermarket chain Migros is already out of bounds, with an enforcer on hand to check your certificate. I never dreamed that I would ever witness a ‘Papers please’ phenomenon in Switzerland. But the locals are determined to test the limits, and it’s possible that people are now waking up to what the future may hold. Many may be disillusioned following their compliant vote in June. At least they still have the option of a second people’s vote in November, unlike anywhere else.
I can only hope that this time round, the Swiss will have seen sense, and be prepared to act on it. Otherwise, on the wider front, I may never be able to visit and hug my grandchildren in England again.