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Swiss reject plan to abolish COVID pass

November 28, 2021

Opponents of the certificate, which restricts entry to events and restaurants to mostly vaccinated people, forced Sunday's referendum. Most voters, instead, have backed the government's approach.

The Swiss COVID certificate, displayed on a smartphone
Swiss voted on whether to abolish the COVID certificate which restricts the movements of unvaccinated peopleImage: Christian Beutler/Keystone/picture alliance

The Swiss public firmly rejected a plan to abolish the country's COVID certificate, final results showed after a referendum Sunday.

Sixty-two percent of voters said 'Yes' to keeping the health pass, which was introduced in September. and not seek major amendments to Switzerland's COVID law.

The certificate restricts entry to public places, including bars and restaurants to those who are fully vaccinated, recovered from the virus or have a negative test.

The referendum took place as concerns rise over the worrying new COVID-19 variant omicron, first detected in southern Africa and classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.

Why was the referendum held?

Sunday's vote was an attempt to amend the country's COVID law, which brought in the health certificate and unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic.

Opponents of the certificate forced the poll with a petition that garnered 187,000 signatures, way above the 50,000 needed to hold a referendum.

They said the pass, which most people use via an app, is discriminatory and amounts to a de facto obligation to get vaccinated.

Along with grassroots groups that were formed during the pandemic, the right-wing People's Party has campaigned for its abolition, despite voting for the certificate earlier this year.

In recent weeks, those trying to overturn its use have raised large amounts of cash for their campaign and drawn support from abroad — where negative sentiment toward new COVID restrictions has been rising.

A Swiss protester holds a poster saying 'No' to a tightening of COVID rules
Protests have been held in several Swiss cities in opposition to the COVID certificateImage: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The campaign even won the support of American anti-vaccination campaigner Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who flew in for a rally in the capital, Bern, earlier this month.

Polls conducted ahead of the vote, however, showed about 60% of Swiss people were against the abolition of the certificate.

Some supporters of the pass launched a campaign with the slogan, "get vaccinated, stop moaning."

Despite the support for certificates, analysts expected a higher than average turnout for this referendum due to the unwillingness of many Swiss to get vaccinated.

Sunday's poll was the second time in less than six months that the Swiss public has voted on the government's response to the pandemic.

In June, 60% of voters approved prolonging national measures.

Why was this vote important?

The referendum offered a rare litmus test of public opinion specifically on the issue of COVID health passes, which have drawn protests in Switzerland and across Europe.

The Swiss government, always careful not to overstep the rules of the country's direct democracy, has hesitated before introducing additional curbs to stem a fresh winter wave of the virus.

Sunday's support for their policies will likely embolden the government to proceed with new measures.

To date, ministers have recommended more working from home and have made mask-wearing compulsory in many public indoor places.

Infection rates have risen more than fivefold in recent weeks to an average of 5,200 per day.

Switzerland's vaccination rate — at about two-thirds of the population — is around the same as neighboring Austria, which recently became the first European country to return to lockdown and will make vaccinations mandatory in the spring.

Germany, which this week saw a record daily caseload of nearly 70,000, has also seen a sharp increase in forged vaccination certificates.

Two other votes were held Sunday — one would give nurses higher wages, better conditions and more money for training, the other was about whether federal judges should be appointed by parliament or an expert commission.

Final results showed 61% support for the initiative to help nurses, while 68% of voters rejected the plan to reform the appointment project for judges.

mm/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa)