Cases soar but Swiss eschew lockdown as COVID law vote looms

FILE - Protesters gather for a demonstration march against civil restrictions and the COVID-19 vaccine, in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 9, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)
Caption
FILE - Protesters gather for a demonstration march against civil restrictions and the COVID-19 vaccine, in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 9, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

Credit: Salvatore Di Nolfi

Like others in Europe, Switzerland is facing a steep rise in coronavirus cases

GENEVA (AP) — Like many others in Europe, Switzerland is facing a steep rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictive measures. Analysts say it doesn't want to stir up more opposition to its anti-COVID-19 policies, which face a crucial test at the ballot box this weekend as critics have grown increasingly loud.

On Sunday, as part of the country’s regular referendums, Swiss voters will cast ballots about the so-called “COVID-19 law” that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs (dollars) in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. The law has also imposed the use of a special COVID certificate that lets only people who have been vaccinated, recovered, or tested negative attend public events and gatherings.

If the Swiss give a thumbs-up, the government may well ratchet up its anti-COVID efforts.

The vote offers a relatively rare bellwether of public opinion specifically on the issue of government policy to fight the coronavirus in Europe, the global epicenter of the pandemic. The continent enjoys relatively high rates of vaccination compared with countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but has been nearly alone in facing a surge in cases in recent weeks.

Polls suggest a solid majority of Swiss will approve the measure, which is already in effect and the rejection of which would end the restrictions — as well as the payouts. But in recent weeks, opponents have raised heaps of cash for their campaign and drawn support from abroad, including a visit from American anti-vaccination campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to a rally in the capital, Bern, this month.

Swiss weekly NZZ am Sonntag reported that campaigners have sent hundreds of petitions to government offices around the country alleging that the language in the referendum question is vague and makes no mention of the “COVID certificate” that affords access to places like restaurants and sporting events.

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit Austria and Germany — at about two-thirds of the population. Infection rates have soared in recent weeks. The seven-day average case count in Switzerland shot up to more than 5,200 per day from mid-October to mid-November, a more than five-fold increase — with an upward curve like those in neighboring Germany and Austria.

Austria has responded with a much-ballyhooed lockdown, and Germany — which is forming a new government as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure nears its end — has taken some steps like requiring workers to provide their employers with proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test set to take effect next week.

The Swiss Federal Council, the seven-member executive branch, went out of its way on Wednesday to say: “It’s not the time to decree a tightening of measures nationwide,” while opting for a region-by-region approach and calling on citizens to act responsibly through mask-wearing, physical distancing, and proper airing of indoor areas.

That's even though the council admitted in a statement that cases — particularly among the young — are rising and “the number of daily infections has reached a record for the year and the exponential rise is continuing.” Hospitalizations — notably among the elderly — are rising too, it said, but not as fast.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset has insisted his government hasn’t tightened restrictions because COVID-19 patients still make up only a small percentage of people in intensive-care units.

“But we also know that the number of hospitalizations lags behind the number of infections,” said Pascal Sciarini, a political scientist at the University of Geneva. “One can imagine that if Switzerland didn’t have this particular event — the vote on Sunday — we’d already be preparing (the) next steps.”

The Swiss council may simply be holding its breath through the weekend, he suggested.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if as early as next week, the tone changes,” Scarini said. “It’s starting to budge … the Federal Council is surely going to wait until after the referendum.”

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Follow all of AP's pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

FILE - A policewoman and policeman, center, ride a ski lift as they patrol on the slopes and in alpine restaurants specifically, to check the application of sanitary measures during the coronavirus disease COVID-19 outbreak, in the alpine resort of Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, Dec. 19, 2020. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a 'COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP, File)
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FILE - A policewoman and policeman, center, ride a ski lift as they patrol on the slopes and in alpine restaurants specifically, to check the application of sanitary measures during the coronavirus disease COVID-19 outbreak, in the alpine resort of Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, Dec. 19, 2020. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a 'COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Valentin Flauraud

Credit: Valentin Flauraud

FILE - Medical worker treats a patient with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit at the hospital "Reseau hospitalier neuchatelois (RHNe)" Pourtales site during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, November 5, 2020. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)
Caption
FILE - Medical worker treats a patient with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit at the hospital "Reseau hospitalier neuchatelois (RHNe)" Pourtales site during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, November 5, 2020. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Laurent Gillieron

Credit: Laurent Gillieron

FILE - Activists light almost 9,200 candles to commemorate the people who have died of the coronavirus in Switzerland, Feb. 21, 2021, on the Bundesplatz, in front of the Federal Palace in Bern, Switzerland. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Peter Schneider/Keystone via AP, File)
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FILE - Activists light almost 9,200 candles to commemorate the people who have died of the coronavirus in Switzerland, Feb. 21, 2021, on the Bundesplatz, in front of the Federal Palace in Bern, Switzerland. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Peter Schneider/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Peter Schneider

Credit: Peter Schneider

FILE - A pupil wearing a protective mask arrives at a primary school Etablissement Primaire de l'ecole vaudoise, in Morges, Switzerland, 11 May 2020. Classroom teaching at primary and lower secondary schools will again be permitted. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)
Caption
FILE - A pupil wearing a protective mask arrives at a primary school Etablissement Primaire de l'ecole vaudoise, in Morges, Switzerland, 11 May 2020. Classroom teaching at primary and lower secondary schools will again be permitted. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Laurent Gillieron

Credit: Laurent Gillieron

FILE - People celebrate at the MAD (Moulin a Danse) night club on the first evening after COVID-19 measures were eased enabling the reopening of discotheques at full capacity and without mask upon presentation of COVID-19 certificates in Lausanne, Switzerland, early Saturday, June 26, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP, File)
Caption
FILE - People celebrate at the MAD (Moulin a Danse) night club on the first evening after COVID-19 measures were eased enabling the reopening of discotheques at full capacity and without mask upon presentation of COVID-19 certificates in Lausanne, Switzerland, early Saturday, June 26, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Valentin Flauraud

Credit: Valentin Flauraud

FILE - Students wearing face masks after they have been checked at the entrance of an auditorium for a validated Covid Certificate during a lecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, Switzerland, September 21, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)
Caption
FILE - Students wearing face masks after they have been checked at the entrance of an auditorium for a validated Covid Certificate during a lecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, Switzerland, September 21, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Laurent Gillieron

Credit: Laurent Gillieron

FILE - People demonstrate during the "Stiller Protest" (silent protest) association march to protest against anti-COVID measures, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, May 22, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP, File)
Caption
FILE - People demonstrate during the "Stiller Protest" (silent protest) association march to protest against anti-COVID measures, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, May 22, 2021. Switzerland is facing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases. But its federal government, hasn't responded with new lockdown measures. Experts say that's because the government's anti-COVID policies face a crucial test at the ballot box. On Sunday Nov. 28, 2021, Swiss voters will cast ballots on a ‚COVID-19 law' that has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. (Valentin Flauraud/Keystone via AP, File)

Credit: Valenetin Flauraud

Credit: Valenetin Flauraud