Alain Berset: 'We'll present a plan to relax the measures against coronavirus on 16 April'

Alain Berset (left) and Simonetta Sommaruga, 8 April in Berne. | Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

At a press conference on the 8th of April, the Federal Council announced that the current containment measures will be extended until the 26th of April. It is expected that these measures will be relaxed in some areas before the end of the month. The Federal Council has mandated the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), in agreement with the Department of Economic Affairs, to draw up a deconfinement strategy. The strategy will be presented on the 16th of April.

Why is this important? Guy Parmelin, the Federal Councillor in charge of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (DEFR), discussed the problems caused by Coronavirus, stating that: "Unemployment in the country could rise by as much as 7%." He suggested that there is therefore an urgent need to be able to revive economic activity while maintaining hygiene and social distancing measures.

The most important decision of the day.  Federal President Simonetta Sommaruga announced that the extraordinary state of affairs had been extended until 26 April. This means that the current measures will be extended, and the population is asked to stay at home until that date. She was nevertheless keen to congratulate the population:

"We can be proud! The measures taken are having a positive effect on the epidemic. The Federal Council's concept is a success. However, experts remain cautious: hygiene and social distancing measures should not be abandoned yet. We are on the right path, but we have not yet reached our destination."

The President of the Confederation is aware of the current uncertainty and the need for a light at the end of the tunnel. The Federal Council has therefore examined several scenarios for gradual deconfinement on this 8th of April. Simonetta Sommaruga commented that:

"The first easing measures can take place before the end of April."

Deconfinement. Alain Berset, the Federal Councillor in charge of health, spoke about the strategy for exiting the crisis, which has not yet been decided. It is nevertheless important for the Minister of Health to be able to gradually return to a normal situation. Alain Berset commented that:

"The balance is fragile. The numbers of cases and deaths are continuing to rise, but at a slower pace. Hospitalizations are stabilizing. There seems to be a certain easing on the epidemic front. While we are aware of the social and economic consequences of these measures, it is important to hold firm, but with the prospect of the first easing in certain sectors of activity from the end of April. We will present potential measures of deconfinement on April 16."

Deconfinement will operate according to a phased easing strategy. There are two parameters that come into play:

  1. The right time. That can be determined by the numbers of the epidemic. These are subject to interpretation.  A full understanding of the evolution of the epidemic can be gained from the number of new infections, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths, according to Alain Berset. These data allow the Federal Council to determine where we are in the evolution of the epidemic.

  2. The order in which measures are lifted. In order to reopen certain areas, it must be ensured that the current hygiene and social distancing measures can be maintained. It is also necessary to avoid reopening places that encourage large population movements and gatherings.

New economic measures. Guy Parmelin, Federal Councillor in charge of the economy, presented some figures:

  • The unemployment rate has jumped to almost 3%

  • Almost 1.5 million people are partially unemployed

  • Production in the country has fallen by an average of 25%

Guy Parmelin commented that:

"The economy is being hit very hard by the measures taken to combat the epidemic. And I see two important aspects of preserving our economy.

  1. Today, we have to face a deep crisis that will last a long time. We will have to preserve the economic fabric of the country, but we must also conserve our resources, otherwise a future generation will have to bear our debt. This means that the State will not commit itself everywhere. It is essential that economic players take responsibility wherever they can.

  2. We must be able to work wherever possible to keep economic activity at its maximum. Strict compliance with health regulations, especially in sectors that will gradually be reopened. We cannot afford new outbreaks of infection. Every extension of the measures can cost businesses, employees, the country, and therefore all of us, very dearly. We will have to be particularly careful as we move forward with the next steps to avoid that."

The Federal Council has decided to extend the circle of those entitled to partial unemployment to include on-call workers with an employment rate of more than 20% who have been in their job for at least six months. This will enable a further 200,000 people to benefit from this aid.

Partially unemployed employees will be able to work temporarily in a sector that is not their own, in particular in health, logistics and agriculture. Income from temporary employment will not be deducted from this.

In addition, the Federal Council has decided to temporarily abolish customs duties on medical equipment in order to facilitate and speed up imports.

Various solutions are also being considered to support the country's start-ups. Guy Parmelin stated that:

"We also need to safeguard the economy of the future."

Article translated from French by Boroka Zita Godley.