Switzerland sees new protests against coronavirus measures

A hefty police presence thwarted plans for Saturday's unauthorised demonstration against Switzerland's measures to curb the Covid-19 pandemic in Bern, while a similar protest in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden was allowed to go ahead because of a last-minute location change.

Switzerland sees new protests against coronavirus measures
Police at a 2020 demonstration in Bern against Switzerland's coronavirus measures. picture alliance/dpa/KEYSTONE | Anthony Anex

The city of Bern had called upon the protest organisers to drop Saturday’s unauthorised demonstration — which organisers had expected to attract some 50,000 people — and police were ordered to prevent large numbers of people gathering.

The maximum number of people currently allowed at demonstrations in Switzerland is 100, with a limit of just 15 people for private events.

The demonstration had been widely advertised on social media under the “Swiss Freedom Rally” banner and people from across the country had signed up to attend.

To prevent the demonstration, Bern canton police forces cordoned off a large area around the Bundesplatz, the plaza in front of the Bundeshaus (Swiss Parliament Building), and carried out identity checks.

There was a large police presence at the square, with officers wearing riot gear and multiple police vans and a water canon on standby, Swiss news website 20 Minuten reported.

In the end, only around 100-200 people gathered at the Bundesplatz.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Inside Switzerland’s anti-coronavirus lockdown protests

Police carried out multiple identity checks and ordered more than 100 people to leave the area, filing reports against some of them, the Bern canton police said in a tweet

A small group of demonstrators, who were not wearing masks, also walked around the city centre shouting “Liberté!” swinging cowbells, according to a 20 Minuten reporter at the scene, who said there were also two arrests.

Another demonstration — originally planned for Zurich, but moved at the last minute — took place in Urnäsch, a municipality in the canton of Appenzell.

Over 500 people participated in the unauthorised event, according to Appenzell Ausserrhoden canton police, while reporters at the scene estimated there were around 1,000 people present. However, there were no riots, damage to property or arrests.

Despite its unauthorised nature, the police allowed the protest to take place, although the organisers of the demonstration were reported for violating Covid-19 regulations, according to 20 Minuten. 

READ ALSO: Thousands take part in illegal protest against Covid measures in Switzerland

Ausserrhoden canton police spokesman Dominic Schwarz told 20 Minuten reporters they were letting the demonstration run because although it was unauthorised, it was peaceful. They said because it had been moved, they had found out about it with very little notice.

“It’s also a question of proportionality,” Schwarz said, adding that the police would intervene in the event of property damage. 

The demonstrators also processed through the municipality, swinging cowbells and waving cantonal and Swiss flags, as well as banners with slogans such as “Together not alone”, Swiss news website Tagblatt reported.

Some protesters were also collecting signatures for the “Stopp-Impfpflicht” (stop compulsory vaccination) initiative, according to 20 Minuten.

Demonstrations have become a part of weekend life in Switzerland, with several thousands of people protesting against the government’s pandemic policies in Wohlen, Liestal, Altdorf, Schaffhausen, Lugano, Rapperswil, Aaarau and other Swiss towns over the last few weeks.

Last weekend, for example, some 1,500 protesters gathered in Aarau and a similar demonstration is planned for Neuenburg next Saturday. 

Switzerland relaxed a number of its coronavirus measures on April 19th, with further easing expected from May 31st when indoor restaurants will open and larger events will be allowed.

However, critics feel the return to normality is taking too long.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current coronavirus measures?

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”