Germany’s pandemic policy wants to be the strictest

Although the neighboring states act differently, the results are similar. The Swiss middle ground has not led to a collapse of the health system. The tone of command of German politicians towards the unvaccinated, on the other hand, is driving the social divide.

The corona measures are intended to protect the economy and society.

Charlotte Eckstein / NZZ

Germany and Switzerland are neighbors, and they are facing the same problem in the corona pandemic: How can an overload of the health system be prevented without causing irreparable damage to society and the economy? Admittedly, the political paths followed by the neighboring states are different. While Germany is taking particularly tough measures, Switzerland is trying to strike a balance between liberality and rigor. The way in which the citizens are addressed also differs. In the Federal Republic of Germany, large parts of the policy towards vaccination skeptics have a barrack-like tone that is seldom heard between Lake Constance and Lake Geneva.

German paradoxes

The structural requirements are similar. Both countries are federally shaped. Health policy, it is said in Germany, is a matter of the country. Nevertheless, the Federal Chancellor and the 16 Prime Ministers meet regularly in the Corona crisis. The federal government has to sit at the table because a large part of the financial compensation, such as the bridging and hardship aid for particularly affected sectors, is financed from the federal budget.

The country-specific regulations take place within a common framework and yet differ greatly. At the most recent meeting between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, a “resolution” was adopted to allow access to restaurants “nationwide and regardless of incidence” only to those who had been vaccinated twice or who had just recovered with an additional “daily test or proof of a booster vaccination”. In a protocol note, however, Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt distance themselves from this 2-G-plus rule.

In Switzerland, too, the cantons are generally responsible for combating communicable diseases. If there is an increased risk, the state government (Federal Council) can intervene and order measures that are normally the responsibility of the cantons. The cantons are consulted in advance. This dichotomy of responsibility has led several times to the fact that the cantons have left the bogeyman role to the Federal Council, although they should have tightened the rules in their area due to the pandemic development.

The cantons and the federal states can distance themselves from the rules.

The cantons and the federal states can distance themselves from the rules.

Charlotte Eckstein / NZZ

The 2-G rule currently applies to restaurants, clubs, museums, cinemas and theaters throughout Switzerland. Operators can also voluntarily request 2 G plus. Those who can have to work at home. In public transport there is a mask requirement, but no test requirement as in Germany. In private, a maximum of 30 people are allowed to meet inside. If there is one person who has not been vaccinated or has recovered, a maximum of 10 people applies.

No house arrest in Switzerland

Compared to Germany, the restrictions go much less far. On the Oxford index for the severity of containment measures, Switzerland is currently at 44 (on a scale from 0 to 100), Germany at 84 and thus at the top. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, Germany has taken more drastic measures more quickly as the number of cases has increased. The nightly exit restrictions during the “Federal Emergency Brake” between mid-April and the end of June 2021 are a symbol of this. The Defense Minister wanted to introduce such house arrest, but the entire Federal Council spoke out clearly against it.

With a few exceptions, the corona measures were stricter in Germany than in Switzerland

The higher the value from 0 to 100, the stricter the measures

There was one exception: at the very beginning of the pandemic, the canton of Uri prohibited people over 65 from leaving their homes. However, the curfew was only in effect for a short time. The federal government whistled back the Uri government. She had to lift the measure after just two days.

Chancellor Scholz recently affirmed that Germany has “the most precise and far-reaching contact restrictions” in a European comparison. All clubs and discos are currently closed in the Federal Republic of Germany, at least the 2-G rule applies to all cultural events and most of the retail trade, and private get-togethers for vaccinated and convalescent people are limited to a maximum of ten people; Unvaccinated people are only allowed to meet two people from another household.

In Saxony, the right to demonstrate had in fact been suspended since mid-November. Public meetings were only allowed to take place “in a fixed location and with up to 10 people”; this week the limit is to be increased to 200 participants. In Saxony, as in other federal states, tens of thousands of people meet every Monday to take the form of “walks” to protest against government measures and the threat of a general vaccination requirement.

The dispute over compulsory vaccination

There were protests against corona measures in Switzerland early on. New movements such as “Mass-Voll”, “Friends of the Constitution” and the “Freiheitstrychler” emerged. Trychling or Treicheln are (cow) bells. Trying is a custom that is widespread in rural areas of Switzerland, for example on Carnival or St. Nicholas Day. Freedom Tryps, who are skeptical of measures, have caused trouble among the traditional Tryp clubs because they don’t speak out politically.

The demonstrations really picked up speed last summer. In the federal city of Bern there were marches almost every week, with a small number of the protesters engaged in skirmishes with the police. Often the Freiheitstrychler gave the sound to the protests with their loud cowbells. The field of participants was very heterogeneous. Again and again I heard from people that it was their first time at a demo.

The clear yes of the Swiss electorate at the end of November to the Federal Council’s corona policy then largely stifled public protests. The movements are also in crisis. “Mass-Voll” has split up, and the executive committee of the “Friends of the Constitution” is hopelessly quarreling in a power struggle.

On December 10th last year, the German Bundestag passed a facility-related vaccination requirement. From mid-March 2022 onwards, healthcare workers must prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before they are allowed to enter the respective business premises. A general vaccination requirement is to be debated for the first time in the Bundestag at the end of January. After personal volts, the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Minister of Health are now promoting this step despite high legal hurdles and the unresolved question of an appropriate implementation. Presumably, a general vaccination requirement would exacerbate the social divide that is already being promoted by some harsh politicians’ words.

Switzerland is still a long way from compulsory vaccination. There are politicians who are calling for such a thing. However, they remain a small minority. Based on the existing laws, the federal government and the cantons could already introduce mandatory vaccinations for individual groups of people, for example for nursing staff or for people who are particularly at risk. But so far they have refrained from it.

Controversy about compulsory vaccination.

Controversy about compulsory vaccination.

Charlotte Eckstein / NZZ

Prison for the unvaccinated?

Rather, the Swiss authorities are trying to convince vaccine skeptics. In autumn, for example, a national vaccination week with concerts, a night of vaccination and other activities was launched to get the undecided to take the spades. Government members such as the incumbent Federal President Ignazio Cassis go so far as not to exclude compulsory vaccination in an emergency. The vaccine skeptics even have a top level advocate. Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer defended this in an interview: They are not just crazy, but vertical Swiss.

Not only when it comes to vaccination, but also when it comes to restrictions, Maurer is a brake on the government and is thus an advocate of those who oppose the measures. This may have contributed to the fact that the protests did not get out of hand. Conversely, the Federal Council failed to verbally pillory the opponents of the corona policy. One did not want to deepen the rifts in society any further.

The Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens, however, drew attention last year when he called for very tough, “possibly not proportionate” interventions in civil liberties. After much criticism, he half-heartedly rowed back. His Saarland counterpart Tobias Hans (CDU) stated succinctly in a television program at the beginning of December that a “clear message was needed to the unvaccinated: You are now out of social life.”

The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder announced at the end of November 2021 in a joint article with Winfried Kretschmann that a general vaccination requirement protects freedom. His health minister speculates about increased health insurance contributions for people who have not been vaccinated voluntarily, while his colleague from the Rhineland-Palatinate department of the SPD, Clemens Hoch, grimly oracle: “All people who have not yet wanted to be vaccinated must expect that they will be monitored very closely. » Tübingen’s green mayor Boris Palmer suggests a “vaccination obligation, gladly up to convicting detention”.

Papa State should fix it

In general, there is growing irritation in Germany with which the executive branch reacts to the demonstrating “strollers”. There are already calls that the domestic secret service should take care of them. The Brandenburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution announced that right-wing extremists also used the demonstrations for their own purposes, but they remained clearly in the minority. It is a matter of bourgeois protests.

The bottom line is that the two paths through the pandemic have led to similar results. This can be demonstrated by two central and easily measurable elements: the economic costs and the corona fatalities. In Switzerland, the decline in gross domestic product, measured by the difference between the growth expected immediately before the outbreak of the pandemic and the actual development, was around two percentage points lower than in Germany. One explanation could be the less severe restrictions. The two countries are also close in terms of deaths. In Switzerland there are 142 fatalities for every 100,000 inhabitants, in Germany there are 138.

The different political responses to the pandemic in Switzerland and Germany reflect fundamental differences in the relationship between the state and citizens. To put it bluntly, citizens in Germany expect the state to take care of them. In Switzerland, on the other hand, citizens want the state to leave them alone as much as possible.

Germany has slightly fewer corona deaths than Switzerland

Deaths related to Covid 19 disease, accumulated since March 2020, per million inhabitants

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