Our government is exiting the Corona regulatory regime in very small steps, even though the partial shutdown of the economy is costing around 500 million Swiss francs a day. According to our leaders, the path back to a “new” normality can only be taken in stages. Until recently, the Federal Council failed to provide prospects for restaurants, the tourism and the event industry.
The criteria for opening things up are opaque to the most authority-trusting citizen. Now that social distancing has emerged as one of the most effective measures against the further spread of the virus and become standard for every responsible Swiss citizen, it is surprising that companies providing “personal services with physical contact” should be among the first to be allowed to reopen on 27 April.
Previous restrictions on businesses, such as retailing, also raise questions. The sale of bathroom and toilet articles is permitted, but that of bathroom scales is not. Desk accessories and photo albums can be purchased, but it is currently not possible to buy a mystery novel in a local bookstore.
It is obvious: the fight against the corona pandemic has opened a new chapter in the “Swiss style” planned economy, and is setting countless precedents. But by no means should the federal government in Berne decide in a dirigiste way which businesses may now reopen doors and which not. Instead, neutral criteria for the prevention of health problems must be defined without distorting competition.
The Federal Council must place more trust in companies themselves. They have every interest in protecting employees as well as customers from the virus. Therefore, any operational activities that are in accordance with the hygiene rules of the Federal Office of Public Health should be considered as allowed. This would require a self-declaration by companies, instead of a permit from the authorities. That would allow all shops to reopen, provided they followed the FOPH guidelines on social distancing, disinfection and “restricted intake” systems.
Now that the exponential course of the infections has been stopped, Switzerland is entering a new phase of pandemic control. To protect the population, a rapid build-up of testing capacities together with contact tracing, are now priorities. However, “Bundesbern” remains silent about the concrete schedule, and the temporary restrictions on data protection this will bring. The public should, however, be aware of the crucial parameters for relaxing or (depending on developments) tightening up pandemic regulations. And a detailed roadmap indicating when new debt (in the high two-digit billion range) will be reduced again must be presented today. Not only for reasons of intergenerational fairness, but also for the planning security of companies, clearer communication of the next steps and answers to open questions are indispensable.
This article was published in the “Handelszeitung” on 23.4.2020.