Coronavirus: Federal Council bans gatherings of more than five people

Bern, 20.03.2020 - The Federal Council is stepping up measures to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with serious cases of coronavirus disease. At its meeting on 20 March, it decided to ban gatherings of more than five people. Persons who do not comply with this may be fined. Employers in the construction sector and in industry will also be required to comply with the federal recommendations on hygiene and social distancing. Companies that do not comply may be closed down. With these measures, the Federal Council is aiming to avoid the need to take even further-reaching action. In an additional move, the Federal Council is making civil defence units available to cantons requiring assistance.

The Federal Council has urged the population, especially those who are ill or over 65 years of age, to stay at home. People should only go out if they have to go to work or have a doctor's appointment, or if they need to buy food or help others. This measure is intended to protect people who are at high risk from the disease and to prevent the intensive care units in hospitals from being overburdened with serious cases.

Because people have not being fully complying with this measure and the rules on social distancing, the Federal Council has decided to ban gatherings of more than five people in public places, and especially in public squares, on footpaths and in parks. People in groups of fewer than five people must keep a distance of at least two metres from each other. The police may impose a fine for non-compliance.

In order to prevent the closure of construction sites and to offer better protection to employees, the Federal Council is requiring employers in the construction sector and industry to comply with the federal recommendations on hygiene and social distancing. Employers must limit the number of people present on construction sites or in other workplaces, and prevent groups of more than five people from gathering in break rooms and canteens. The cantons may close down individual companies or construction sites if they do not comply.

The Federal Council has made further amendments to the related COVID-19 Ordinance. These will come into force at midnight. It has imposed a more detailed ban on non-urgent medical procedures in hospitals. In addition, postal service providers are now permitted to deliver food and everyday items ordered online to the population seven days a week. Exceptional permits for Sunday work or for driving commercial vehicles on Sundays are no longer required.

Federal Council makes civil defence units available
In the last few weeks, in various cantons, persons on civil defence service have already been deployed to assist with the corona crisis, for example to set up and run reception centres at hospitals or hotlines for the population. The Federal Council expects that throughout Switzerland civilian authorities, private and public institutions and organisations, and population groups that are particularly affected will increasingly need support in the coming weeks.

The Federal Council has therefore decided to make up to 850,000 days of civil defence service available to the cantons. The Federal Act on Civil Protection and Civil Defence provides that the Federal Council may assign persons on civil defence service to assist in the event of disasters and emergencies affecting several cantons or the whole of Switzerland. In line with the rules on Armed Forces civil support service, assistance will be limited until the end of June 2020. The cantons remain responsible for deciding on the deployment and specific tasks of civil defence units, for calling up those required to serve and for the conduct of civil defence assignments. The Confederation will pay the cantons a fixed rate of CHF 27.50 for each day of service rendered. The costs will amount to a maximum of CHF 23.4 million.

The Federal Council's decision also permits intercantonal assignments, for example in regions that particularly need support but cannot meet this need with their own resources.

Civil defence units will carry out tasks in various areas: in particular, they can support the health service and social care institutions, for example by assisting in the outpatient care of the elderly and those in need of care, distributing meals or providing transport services. Civil defence units can also carry out civil engineering work and provide support in the form of logistics and management. This includes transport or catering for emergency services, setting up and operating reception desks at hospitals, supporting crisis teams and operating hotlines. The cantons will decide on which tasks take priority according to their needs.

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