Sunday view: The federal government is launching a major test offensive in the fight against Corona. Do you really think that Switzerland will get the situation under control with this?
Alain Berset: The mass tests are one of three elements to get back to a certain normalcy. The other two are the vaccinations and risk-based openings. The broader testing – in schools, universities, companies – allows us to find more asymptomatic people in the future and to interrupt chains of transmission.
For companies, tests mean additional work. How do you get the companies to participate anyway?
Of course, the tests involve a certain amount of effort, but there are also advantages. If a company regularly tests 80 percent of the employees present and a positive case is found, the contact persons do not have to be in quarantine.
Is that really enough as an incentive for companies to join in en masse?
We all want to leave today’s situation behind us. We therefore assume that everyone will continue to be ready to help to get out of this crisis together. Free tests are easy to use. The Federal Council expects great interest.
It is already possible today to carry out mass tests in schools or companies, but only a few take part. Why should it be any different in the future?
Today, tests are only free in companies if there is an outbreak or in companies with an increased risk. To this end, certain cantons have financed mass tests on their own initiative. In future, the federal government will pay for these costs. If everyone joins in, we can open up more safely and return to normal faster.
What is the goal: how many tests should be done?
We hope that in the near future 40 percent of the mobile population will be tested every week – those who go to school, work in companies or are involved in clubs.
Here, too, the question arises: How do you get people to participate? In parliament, not even half of the politicians took the spit test.
I think it will take a while for that to become established. It will certainly not be possible to test all of them on March 16. But now is the time to massively expand capacities. In addition: The hurdles for a test are getting deeper and deeper. Testing is very easy with the spit tests and soon the home self tests.
Again: don’t we need additional incentives to get people to participate?
With free tests we can help to protect our close contacts. Everyone benefits from this.
Experts have been demanding more testing for months. Why are you only coming up with it now?
The decisive factors are the availability of the tests – including rapid and spit tests – and the capacities of the laboratories. In addition, tests must be able to prove an infection with a certain degree of reliability. That is why it would not have been possible to start mass tests much earlier. In addition, the mass tests mean a lot of effort for the cantons and they already have a lot to do with the vaccinations and the tracking of contacts. Quickly inoculating all available doses of vaccine is just as important as broad testing.
What do the mass tests mean: Can restaurants, cinemas and gyms reopen faster?
Our goal is to keep the situation under control. Mass tests and vaccinations will help us with this – also when accompanying the openings. It also depends on how the number of cases develops. In some surrounding countries they are currently increasing quite sharply, and the infections have not gone down in our country for a few days either.
The first sign of a third wave?
Nobody knows. We mustn’t lose control; that threatened us twice. If hospital admissions increase again, drastic measures are necessary again. We’re doing everything we can to make sure it turns out well this time.
The test offensive comes at a time when the relationship between the Federal Council and Parliament is tense. Coincidence?
The Federal Council is constantly at work. He always decides and informs when something is ready. Such a test offensive would not have been possible a month ago. I have a lot of discussions with parliamentarians, that’s normal.
Normal? A majority in two commissions of the National Council wants to force the Federal Council to open steps on a fixed date. Patience with the government has run out.
I work closely with Parliament and have great respect for its work. Once again the question arises: Who is responsible for what? The Federal Council wants to get out of this situation as quickly as possible without losing control of the pandemic. Because then the crisis will only prolong.
From the bourgeois camp, the accusation comes that the government does not involve parliament enough.
The Federal Council is in close contact with Parliament. In the first steps in opening up, we followed Parliament’s demands on almost every point. Except for the terraces.
In addition to the tests, the vaccinations are an important pillar in the fight against Covid. Switzerland is just lagging behind on its own schedule. Can anyone who wants to be vaccinated by the summer really be vaccinated?
Everyone wants certainty. In such a crisis, predictability is a scarce commodity. But what I am defending is our good strategy for getting the vaccines. This started a year ago! Last summer, we were already using the fastest, best and safest vaccines. By the end of June we will have enough vaccines to vaccinate the part of the population who wants to be vaccinated. Of course, we base this on estimates. If you suddenly get a lot more or less vaccinated, that changes.
The arrears of the past weeks will soon be made up?
Yes. There were delivery bottlenecks worldwide, which of course also affected Switzerland. In April, May and June the big, match-deciding deliveries come. We have no signs of any impending bottlenecks. That’s what the contracts are, we’ve been guaranteed. So we’ll have enough doses.