Why do Switzerland’s German and French speakers disagree about easing of Covid-19 restrictions?

Why do Switzerland’s German and French speakers disagree about easing of Covid-19 restrictions?
Many Swiss want to resume normal activities soonest possible. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
The opinions of German and French speakers on various issues often diverge – the cultural phenomenon commonly called the ‘Röstigraben’. They also have different views about the announced relaxation of coronavirus-related restrictions.

This week the Federal Council announced it would be easing the coronavirus-related restrictions at the end of the month.

But not all Swiss are happy about this news.

A survey commissioned by a Swiss broadcaster SSR and published this week, shows that while people living in the Swiss German part are in a rush to lift the confinement measures, those in the French part —Romandie —  prefer a slower process.

In German-speaking Switzerland, 45 percent of respondents would like current measures to be lifted or abandoned altogether. Among French speakers, that number is only 19 percent.

Why is there such a divergence between the two linguistic regions? According to RTS television’s Andreas Stüdli, various factors are at play: 

The number of cases.

The two large French-speaking cantons of Vaud and Geneva have had far more cases than their Swiss-German counterparts.

To date, there are over 4,600 known infections in Vaud and more than 3,900 in Geneva. As a comparison, the biggest Swiss-German canton, Bern, has nearly 1,400 cases, and second-largest, Graubünden, 688. In Zurich, which has the highest population in the country, there are just 2,800 cases.

READ MORE: Coronavirus across Europe: How countries are plotting a path back to normality and is it the right time? 

Economic interests

With 63 percent of Switzerland’s population, the Swiss-German part is larger than the Romandie (22.7 percent). It follows that more businesses are located in the Swiss-German part, and they are eager to re-launch the ever-more struggling economy. 

The business associations in French-speaking regions, on the other hand, want to move slower, while advocating stronger cantonal aid for sectors such as the hotel industry, agriculture and the self-employed.

Stüdli also said that, due to their geographical proximity to France, the Romands are more influenced by the more stringent measures in that country, including the curfew.

“Germany, which is less strict, is more of a reference for German-speaking Switzerland. That certainly has an impact”, he added.

What about Ticino?

In the Italian-speaking canton, which has been one of the most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, 27 percent of those surveyed said that the restrictions should be relaxed, so they fall between the French and German speakers.

READ MORE: What we know about the victims of the coronavirus pandemic in Switzerland 

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