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Referendum on Swiss COVID certificates: What you need to know

Referendum on Swiss COVID certificates: What you need to know

Switzerland is to take the controversial issue of COVID-19 vaccination certificates to a nationwide referendum on November 28, 2021, here is what expats living in Switzerland need to know.

COVID certificate has proven divisive in Switzerland

The current COVID-19 vaccination certificates, which are needed to enter indoor spaces, have proven to be a divisive topic within Swiss society, with many people arguing that the passes discriminate unfairly against the unvaccinated. On the other side of the debate, many of those who have been vaccinated feel uncomfortable being around unvaccinated people in enclosed spaces or large events

This has created tension in Switzerland regarding the vaccination scheme and the COVID certificates in recent months, culminating in numerous protests on the matter in various cities

Why is there another referendum on the Swiss COVID-19 law?

On June 13, 2021, Swiss citizens voted on the COVID-19 law for the first time, passing it with a majority of 60,2 percent. However, just several weeks later on July 8, three referendum committees submitted 74.469 verified signatures opposing the March 19, 2021 amendment to the COVID-19 law.

This has therefore triggered, for the first time in Switzerland’s history, a second vote on the same issue in less than six months. Unlike the previous vote in June, this vote will have the added aspect of the COVID-19 vaccination certificate for voters to consider, as the measure was only implemented as recently as September 13. 

Is it likely to pass again?

While the law was previously accepted, getting voters to accept the law a second time is likely to be more difficult. Many businesses and entrepreneurs have been hit financially due to the COVID-19 certificate, since unvaccinated people have not been able to enter indoor spaces without a test. Financial aid that was available earlier in the pandemic is also becoming more scarce as Switzerland comes out of lockdown, meaning that many firms want to get back to normal as soon as possible. 

Citizens who are against the law are also concerned that the Swiss government is contravening their legal right to choose not to be vaccinated, which has sparked a large debate about individual freedoms across the country that is likely to dominate the second vote. 

What do people in favour of the COVID certificate say?

In short, those in favour of the COVID certificates believe that they have allowed the country to return to normal as much as possible given the pandemic’s continuation. The certificate aims to keep virus transmission rates low, by only allowing those with some level of resistance to the virus to enter enclosed spaces. 

They argue that the certificate encourages people to get vaccinated against the virus, with many doctors agreeing that vaccination makes people less likely to contract the illness, and even if they do catch it, it will reduce the likelihood that they end up in a hospital.

Those in favour of the COVID law also argue that without the law, financial aid for firms and their employees would no longer be available. Aside from social security for those who have lost their job during the pandemic, the government has also agreed to pay companies if they need to furlough staff, as part of the law. Advocates for the law believe that the certificate is the best way to support the Swiss economy and the country's healthcare system at the moment.

What's the counter argument?

Those on the other side of the debate feel that the COVID certificate unfairly discriminates against the unvaccinated and works as a pseudo-mandate to force people to undergo vaccination.

Many of those who are against the COVID law are also concerned that it shows a worrying trend towards authoritarianism in the country. For example, contact tracing, which is allowed under the law, is seen by the “no camp” as unnecessary electronic surveillance of citizens through their mobile phones. They see the implementations as a "slippery slope" towards the government taking more control over what people are allowed to do.

The second referendum may be an opportunity for those who oppose the law to convince people that voting against it is a “way out” of the pandemic and a return to normal life.

What happens if the COVID certificate is thrown out?

Despite all the hype about the referendum, it would not really change much in the short term if the public were to reject the law. If the law is accepted, COVID certificates would still be phased out in March 2022, one year after the COVID law was passed and at the same time, state financial support would end too. 

If there were to be a sharp enough increase in COVID-19 cases as to require a lockdown, the rejection of the COVID law would remain mostly irrelevant, since many of the health measures taken in past outbreaks, such as the requirement to wear a face-covering indoors or on public transport, or forced closures of shops and restaurants, are instead covered by the law on epidemics, which is not a subject of the latest referendum. 

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily studied International Relations and Chinese, and is now undertaking Master's degree in International Security. She enjoys writing, cooking, and playing piano.

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