Thousands protest Covid curbs in Switzerland

A protester wears a sign reading “Modern slaves wear masks!”
·3 min read

Thousands of demonstrators descended on the small northern Swiss town of Liestal Saturday to demand an end to anti-Covid measures that have shut restaurants and other venues for months.

More than 5,000 people, many not respecting facemask and physical distancing requirements, gathered in the small town in the Basel canton for what they have called a "Silent Protest".

A number of the demonstrators wore white protective jumpsuits and white masks as they walked in unison to sombre funeral music playing in the background.

Some wore placards around their necks reading "Modern slaves wear masks", while one man had scrawled "Mask mandatory, shut your mouth" on his plastic mask.

Others held signs reading "Enough!", "Vaccines kill" and "Let love guide you, not fear".

The protesters accuse the Swiss government of using dictatorial powers to impose restrictions aimed at reining in Covid-19 transmission.

The demonstration, which had police authorisation, is the latest in a series of public protests across the country in recent months, including one earlier this month in the small, picturesque town of Chur that drew over 4,000 people.

Police told AFP that they estimated around 5,000 people took part in Saturday's march in Liestal, which has a population of 14,500 people, while journalists said the number appeared to be a bit higher than that.

Organisers of the demonstration did not respond immediately to questions about their estimates, but had voiced hope in advance that more than 10,000 people would join the march.

- 'Hostage' -

The organisers complained in a statement ahead of the march that the Swiss government had taken the country "hostage" over a year ago.

"We are going to Liestal to say to the people 'it is time to stop the measures'," the statement said.

"These measures make no sense. To protect one percent of people at risk, they are destroying the lives of 99 percent of the population," it said.

The march comes a day after the Swiss government dashed hopes that many Covid restrictions would be lifted next week.

Switzerland had been expected to continue lifting a range of measures imposed in December and January after a major spike in cases.

It had allowed museums and non-essential shops to reopen from March 1, and had signalled it could allow outdoor areas at restaurants and bars to reopen, and change the requirement to work from home, from next Monday.

But Health Minister Alain Berset said Friday it was too soon to remove most restrictions, warning of the danger of a "third wave" of infections.

He pointed out that most neighbouring European countries were adding restrictions, not lifting them, "which is something we are trying to avoid".

"We are simply trying, for the third wave, to ensure we do not lose control," he told a news conference.

As of Monday, the number of people permitted to attend indoor private gatherings will increase from five to 10, the government said.

But it said all other measures, including restaurant closures, would remain in place for at least another month.

Switzerland, a country of 8.6 million people, has to date counted nearly 578,000 cases of the virus, and 9,455 deaths.