Switzerland returns to ‘new normal’- Schengen borders to reopen by 6 July

Infographic of new measures - (Swiss Federal Department of Public Health

Switzerland will return to a “new normal” on 6 June with the resumption of most normal activities within the country following nearly three months of lockdown. Borders with neighboring Germany, Austria, and France will reopen fully on 15 June. Borders with other European countries of the Schengen Zone are scheduled to open by 6 July, the Swiss Federal Council announced today.

FR_200527_Lockerungen.jpg

Speaking at a much-anticipated press conference, Confederation President Simonetta Sommaruga, together with Alain Berset, head of Home Affairs (health), and Karin Keller-Sutter, of Justice and Police, presented the third stage of national relaxation plans. They also said that the “extraordinary” emergency situation that began on 16 March, will end formally on 19 June, with only a few exceptions.

Why does this matter? The Federal Council decision reflects the decline in Covid-19 infection rates in Switzerland as well as among most of its immediate neighbors, which no longer justify massive restrictive measures. After June 6, prohibitions will nonetheless remain in place forbidding gatherings of more than 30 people; events involving more than 300 people; and sports competitions with close physical contact. Said Sommaruga:

"From 6 June onwards, the question will no longer be whether you can celebrate your birthday, organise a jazz party with friends or take part in a birthday party, but how to do it safely."

The question of borders: From 15 June, freedom of movement will be restored between Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France, with passage under pre-Covid-19 border control norms. The Federal Council also intends to re-establish the free movement of people between Switzerland and most other countries of the Schengen zone as of 6 July 2020 .

Within that time frame, however, it remains unclear, when the border with Italy will be fully reopened, said Keller-Sutter, head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP):

"Italy has announced that it will open its borders from 3 June in a sovereign manner, but without prior consultation. The Swiss border with Italy will remain closed from 3 June. Such an opening is premature. Prior coordination is necessary, in particular with the Ticino authorities."

Employment. From 8 June it will again be possible to hire workers from other countries of the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which also includes Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. It will also be possible to take on employees from third countries, with the usual permit procedures. This opening up of the labour market is accompanied by the obligation to re-advertise vacancies. This measure is intended to favour job seekers living in Switzerland. In addition, the Federal Council would like to see teleworking remain the norm wherever possible

Leisure. Holiday campsites can reopen along with zoos, spas swimming pools, amusement parks, botanical gardens, and other tourist attractions. Mountain rail and cableways can also reopen, under the same hygiene and social distancing rules as public transport. Larger groups will be allowed within restaurants, and live music performances will be permitted up to 300 people, albeit with certain contact tracing measures in place.

Next Stage

Another set of relaxation measures will be presented on 24 June. In the meanwhile, efforts will continue to monitor and control infection spread, through testing suspected cases and tracing the transmission chain through their contacts.  This will be managed by the Cantons. However, a new mobile contact tracing App, SwissCovid, should also be operative from June onwards. These two tools should enable the Confederation to keep rates of virus transmission low.

End of the emergency situation. The Federal Council is declaring a formal end to the emergency situation on 19 June. It will not completely relinquish its emergency powers, however, which can still be exercised under the Epidemics Act. Said Berset, Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA):

"As long as the criteria of the special situation are met, we will keep this status. The epidemic is still ongoing. So we must be able to maintain flexibility if the epidemic were to flare up again - and act quickly."

For more details on the relaxation measures see the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.