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COVID-19 VACCINES

‘Not being vaccinated should have consequences’: The verdict on Switzerland’s Covid certificate expansion

The Swiss government’s plan to make the Covid certificate mandatory to gain entry to restaurants, gyms and private parties divides opinion, but our poll revealed most readers back the proposal believing there must be consequences for those who are not jabbed.

'Not being vaccinated should have consequences': The verdict on Switzerland's Covid certificate expansion
Local readers broadly supported a Covid certificate requirement. Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

The Covid-19 certificate – otherwise known as the Covid-19 pass or the green pass – is available in paper and digital form. 

The pass “provides documentary evidence that you have had a COVID-19 vaccination, have had and recovered from the disease or have tested negative”. 

Switzerland will expand its Covid certificate requirement from Monday, September 13th. 

While previously the certificate was required only for events, nightclubs and travel, from Monday it will be required in bars, restaurants, gyms and for some private gatherings. 

See the following link for specifics. 

EXPLAINED: What will Switzerland’s expanded Covid certificate look like?

The Local asked readers its views on the Swiss government’s proposal in a survey on our website and we were inundated with responses.

Dozens more replied on social media, showing how controversial and high-profile the issue is in Switzerland. 

What is the proposal? 

Amid rising case numbers and hospitalisations with Covid-19, the Swiss government has proposed tightening Covid certificate rules. 

Under the proposal, a valid Covid certificate would be required to enter indoor areas of bars, restaurants, as well as hairdressers, cosmetic services, gyms and some private events. 

Currently, Covid certificates – which show if someone is vaccinated, recovered or tested negative – are required for nightclubs, discos and events with more than 1,000 people in Switzerland. Covid certificates are also required for travel in some instances.

Switzerland’s Covid certificate rules are currently out of step with most of its neighbours, where some form of Covid health pass is required to enter indoor and outdoor areas of various businesses and establishments. 

Swiss authorities say this is a necessary move to help things get back to normal and to encourage vaccination. 

What do our readers think about it? 

The poll asked a simple yes or no question about whether people supported the plan to extend the certificate or not. 

66.5 percent said they agreed with the expansion, while 29.7 percent said they did not. 

3.8 percent of respondents told us they were not sure how they felt about the issue. 

Why do people support requiring Covid certificates?

There were several reasons for why people supported the expansion, most of which revolved around safety, responsibility and getting back to normal. 

Several readers told us they felt getting vaccinated was about acting responsibly to protect the most vulnerable in society, while others simply said they wanted the pandemic to be over. 

One of the most prominent responses related to safety. 

Vicky, from Geneva, she’d feel safer with a Covid pass. 

“Currently in Geneva the lack of a Covid passport is attracting unvaccinated French over the border to avoid the Vax passport in France”.

The theme of social responsibility came through strong, particularly among those who were concerned that the vaccinated could be subjected to lockdowns again purely due to the acts of the unvaccinated. 

Kelly, also from Geneva, said it was unfair to the vaccinated – particularly if there is another lockdown. 

“Those who are vaccinated will have to pay the price of stricter measures because of those who are unvaccinated, which is unfair.”

“Choosing not to get vaccinated should have consequences for the individual, as it has consequences for the rest of society. More importantly, keeping the virus circulating by refusing vaccination puts all of our children at risk, and our entire healthcare system under stress.”

The proposal to make the Covid certificate mandatory has been put forward largely to encourage the unvaccinated to get the jab. Several readers told us they supported the move for these reasons. 

Another reader, from St Legier, said a mandatory requirement would encourage the unvaccinated to take responsibility for their decision. 

“Those who choose not to be vaccinated ought to have to bear some of the burden that they are placing on society.”

Anthony, from Lausanne, echoed the views of many when he said he was tired of Covid restrictions and wanted things to get back to normal. 

“By requiring the certificate of vaccine or negative test result, with testing not being free anymore, should lead to more vaccinations. Everyone is tired of COVID restrictions but the only way out of this to get the vaccine. Hopefully this will help drive more vaccinations.”

Anthony was referring to the upcoming policy change, whereby testing will no longer be free from October. 

UPDATED: Unvaccinated must pay for Covid tests in Switzerland from October

Why do people oppose requiring Covid certificates in these areas?

Those who disagreed also provided similar reasons to each other, including concerns about safety or discrimination, while some were worried that it may lead to a “slippery slope” where the Swiss government would frequently carry out radical medical controls over the population. 

Several readers said they were worried about discrimination, with those who have not been vaccinated being discriminated against. 

One reader, from Lausanne, said they were concerned that the vaccines had not been tested enough. 

“The general direction in which this is heading is authoritarianism. I do not agree with this. One may argue that this is for the general well-being of public health, but I believe that the vaccines have yet proven their efficacy to the point of being mandated (or coerced via means of restricted access to public services).”

Some responses said they wanted more clarity about the plan and how it would be rolled out. 

AT, from Andermatt, said it would create too much work for bars, gyms and restaurants. As it stands, the government has not indicated how controls would be carried out, but in some cases establishments may be required to check people’s Covid credentials. 

Will said that while he thinks a Covid certificate could work, he feels it would be unfair unless tourists were also given the right to be vaccinated. 

“I’ve seen it work well. However tourists should also be given the option. As of today that isn’t possible in Geneva for the vaccinated.”

As it stands, only foreigners who have Swiss health insurance or who work in the health sector can be vaccinated in Switzerland.

Anyone with Swiss citizenship or residency is entitled to be vaccinated in Switzerland. 

Reader question: Can cross-border workers get vaccinated in Switzerland?

While many of the concerns about the pass were legitimate, a large proportion were based on debunked science including myths about the virus and its potency or a belief that natural antibodies are better than those from vaccination. 

One particular misapprehension was that people who had been vaccinated could catch and pass on the virus as easily as those who haven’t, which has been consistently disproven. 

Another was that those vaccinated catch the virus more than those who have not, which is not supported by evidence. 

READ MORE: What is the risk of catching Covid and getting sick in Switzerland if you are vaccinated?

What about those who were unsure?

While the survey attracted many responses, not everyone who responded had a set opinion on the matter. 

In total, eight respondents said they were unsure, which was just under four percent of those who filled out the survey. 

Alex, from Zurich, said businesses should have the final say on whether they would ask for the Covid certificate, with those who did provided perks over those who didn’t. 

“I totally support vaccination, but I think it would be better to let the businesses have the final say. Possibly, with some perks for those that require a certificate.”

Hilary, from Effretikion, said she wanted more information about the risks in different environments. 

“I feel like I’m lacking hard and fast facts on the risks of catching coronavirus in a restaurant as opposed to in public transport – I.e what is riskier, eating in a restaurant for 2 hours or travelling on a crowded train for 2.5 hours…?”

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READER INSIGHTS

‘You’re missing out’: The verdict on getting by in Switzerland with just English

We recently asked our readers whether it is possible to live in the multilingual Switzerland speaking only English. The responses we received are truly revealing.

'You're missing out': The verdict on getting by in Switzerland with just English

There is plenty of observational and anecdotal evidence indicating that some foreigners never make an effort to learn one of Switzerland’s national languages, relying only on English for daily communication — no matter how long they have been living in the country.

But is this really feasible?

We recently asked readers to share their views and experiences on this very topic.

We put out two specific questions: Can you get by in Switzerland with just English? And, Is it possible to find jobs and work in Switzerland without speaking a local language?
 
Most of the answers indicated that, yes, both are possible under certain circumstances. But, there is a…”but”.

READ ALSO: Which parts of Switzerland are best at speaking English?

English is the ‘language of business’
 
Karen Rasmussen from Basel found that “there are three types of people: those who don’t speak English; those who are eager to practice their English; and those whose English is actually quite good despite their shyness about speaking it.

“The later two categories represent probably 80 percent of people I’ve encountered.”
 
Because of the prevalence of English in Switzerland, finding a job should not pose a problem, Karen said. “If you’re working for a big multinational company, English is the language of business.”

‘It depends on where you live’
 
“In the bigger cities and in the German speaking parts, English is much more widely understood”, said Kathryn from Vaud. “I have not found this to be the case in the French speaking region.”
 
She also believes that finding an English-only job is feasible, “but it is the non-working part of life that is difficult with only English, at least that is the case in the French speaking areas. I have even had doctors who can barely communicate in English.”

READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t expect the Swiss to speak English to you

German is ‘nice to have’

“In Zurich, it is pretty easy. Everything important is solved in English. The only time I speak German is with my neighbours. But that I would not need for survival,” said Brian Holinka, adding that “in my job English is necessary, German is nice to have”.

For Lynette Haeuselmann from St. Gallen, who is an English teacher for adults, “one can get by with just English, but it will be a limited social existence.

“As a foreigner, I learned German and that made things a lot easier for me. Being able to communicate with locals is a big help towards integrating into one’s new ‘Heimatland’.

‘Possible to get by’

Some respondents said you can function without an official Swiss language. 

“I think that the two biggest factors that affect how much you can get by with just English in Switzerland are: where you live, and what job you have,” T. B. from Zurich pointed out.

“Living in a big city makes it easier to get by with just English, and working in companies where the majority of employees are not Swiss and English is established as the working language, “makes it quite possible to get by”, said the respondent.

“Having said that, I think that you just ‘get by’ though. You probably cannot experience the country in its fullest, and cannot feel integrated, in order to be able, at some point ‘n the future, to call this place ‘home’ (if this is of course your goal).”

Whether or not you can work entirely in English depends on the job, T. B. says.

“For example, for engineers it is possible, for doctors most likely is not.”

Languages needed for socialising

For Sean Knox, who lives in Zurich but works in Baar (ZG), getting by with just English in these two international locations can be done.

“However, I realised that my German will need to improve if I want to progress from simply getting by to social integration,” he said.

While most people in Switzerland have a good proficiency of English, “in a group, especially in social situations, Swiss people will generally speak a local language, which is totally fair but can be quite isolating.”

This has been the experience of Paul Hunt from Biel / Bienne, who also found that this is more of a challenge in the German speaking part than the French or Italian parts “because we learn high German in classes but can’t understand dialects”.

“Knowledge of high German has, however, been essential the longer I’ve lived here,” he pointed out, especially for official paperwork like filing tax returns  or registering for unemployment benefits.

In terms of job opportunities, they would be more limited with just English and “there are many sectors where not speaking a local language would not be possible”.
 
‘Old-fashioned’

Some respondents found that not speaking a local language definitely limits their job options.

One of them is George from Basel, who says that despite being a highly qualified professional in security business, “I am unable to find a job — not because I am not good but because my colleagues will not be able to understand me.”

“Switzerland remains old fashioned yet is in desperate need of workers, but only if they match their way of thinking,” he added.

Another reader, Luka from Lucerne, also found that lack of language skills has been a major hurdle on his career path.

“For me, in architecture, it is almost impossible in a long term if I want to have a well-paid position,” he said.

It’s ‘arrogant’

Some readers have pointed out what others have already observed as well.

“Sure, you can get by without a local language, but what a way to miss out on an amazing country,” said Jennifer from Montreux (VD).

A Geneva reader agrees that it is possible to manage with just English, “but to truly integrate and not feel like a foreigner it’s important to know the local language”.

And another respondent noted that “you can probably get by just speaking English, but it’s arrogant and incorrect to think that everyone should speak English” too.

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