The changeable Pierre Alain Schnegg

The Bern health director, once a Corona hardliner, wants to lead Switzerland back to normal.

According to Pierre Alain Schnegg, here in front of the vaccination center in Burgdorf, you should start treating corona like other diseases.

Anthony Anex / Keystone

Pierre Alain Schnegg is one of the leading figures in Swiss corona politics. At the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, the Bern health director was one of the hardliners and didn’t let the protective measures burn. Sometimes you could get the impression that Schnegg would have preferred to lock the Bernese population in their apartments in order to maintain discipline and order and to deal with the virus. Young people in particular who dared to meet in groups in parks enraged the SVP government council. And later, in the first autumn of the pandemic, when you could lighten up the gloomy mood in other cantons with a visit to the cinema or with fitness classes, Schnegg had long since closed everything in Bern.

Away with the quarantine

Schnegg was not alone with his tough stance; other civil health directors, like their Bern colleagues, took decisive action and issued orders to the population as if they had never done anything else. But for some time now Schnegg has been attracting new and different positions. For example, he refrained from continuing the mass tests at schools in Bern. They wouldn’t do any good, he said, and it aroused a lot of displeasure. And he opposed additional tightening that the Federal Council flirted with last December.

Schnegg is now even clearer and opposes the continuation of the previous corona policy. While other health directors are still carefully thinking about reducing the quarantine for contact persons, Schnegg wants to abolish this completely. Yes, even more, much more: “With Omikron we have to slowly switch to treating Corona like other diseases,” he said on Tuesday in an interview with the Tamedia newspapers. The state must change its position now. And further: “It cannot be that the state dictates everything and puts a police officer behind every person who tells them what to do.” Will Schnegg bring Switzerland back to normal? Does the previous turbo-boost herald the end of the pandemic policy?

With corners and edges

You may think what you want of Pierre Alain Schnegg, but even his opponents will not be able to deny him an independent stance and great creative drive. The 59-year-old has rough edges and is not the type of politician for whom it is particularly important to be well received and popular.

Schnegg is the father of four children, a devout Christian and belongs to a free church. The SVP man, who comes from the French-speaking Bernese Jura, used to be a successful IT entrepreneur. When he took over the office of health director in 2016, he quickly became a bourgeois figure. With his plan to cut social benefits and convince social welfare recipients of the value of work, he made himself extremely unpopular in left-wing circles. “Schnegg has to go,” was chanted under his office in Bern’s Rathausgasse, and the people rejected the savings plans at the urn. But Schnegg is still there and he wants to stay. The government in the canton of Bern is elected at the end of March, and Schnegg is running for a further term.

Only election calculation?

It is now suspected that Pierre Alain Schnegg is moving closer to the SVP position on the Corona issue, not least because of the upcoming election date, and that the individual responsibility of the population is suddenly weighted higher than it was a year ago. The health director denies this. He does not make his decisions with a view to the elections or under pressure from a party, he says in response to questions from journalists. To add: “In five years time we cannot tell the population what they must, may, or should no longer have to or should.” Whether it is election calculation or not: The SVP will cheer for Schnegg’s new tones.

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