A majority of Swiss voters backed the government’s Covid-19 response policy in a referendum held on Sunday, following weeks of vitriolic public debate and protests.
Official government results show 62 percent of voters agreed to keep the amendments parliament made to the nation’s existing Covid law, which includes the introduction of a Covid certificate that shows either proof of vaccination or recovery from the illness and is required to enter public spaces like restaurants or museums.
It is the second time this year that opponents have tried to overturn legislature introduced by the government in response to the pandemic, by collecting enough signatures to bring the matter to a referendum.
This time opposition focused on getting rid of contact tracing and an internationally recognized Covid certificate. Opponents, who organized many protests in the lead up to Sunday, argued they are trying to prevent a split in society between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, with different rules applying to each group.
Josef Ender, the spokesman for the committee opposing the legislation said they acknowledge the result, but “will continue to advocate for freedom in Switzerland.”
In response to the outcome, which saw one of the highest voter turnouts in decades, the Interior Minister Alain Berset commented on the tone of the opposition and its demonstrations that sometimes turned violent. “What does not belong to Switzerland is anger, hatred, intimidation and threats,” he said.
“We all want to end the pandemic as quickly as possible and that can only be done together,” he said.
On Sunday, Swiss voters also approved a proposed constitutional amendment that aims to improve compensation and working conditions for nurses, and meet the growing demand for health care workers.
Although the initiative was launched by the country’s nursing association before the pandemic, it took on a new significance because of the increased reliance on nurses.
“It is an incredible sign of appreciation from the Swiss electorate towards caregivers,” Yvonne Ribi, the director of the country’s nursing association, said to Switzerland’s national broadcaster after the proposal was approved by a 61 percent majority vote.
The results come amid a recent surge in Covid cases in Switzerland, which despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has one of the continent’s lowest vaccination rates.
The Alpine nation has received criticism throughout the pandemic for maintaining looser regulations than much of Europe. It has also been slow to make booster jabs available.
In light of the new Omicron variant, Swiss authorities on Friday decided to ban all direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region. The country has so far not reported any confirmed cases of the new variant.
Visitors from several countries where cases of Omicron have been detected, including Hong Kong, Israel and the United Kingdom, are now required to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in Switzerland.