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EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland avoided adding French border regions to its quarantine list

Switzerland on Monday added several regions of France and Austria to its quarantine list, but avoided including border regions. Here’s why.

EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland avoided adding French border regions to its quarantine list
The river La Morge in Saint-Gingolph, a natural border between Switzerland and France. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland put in place a mandatory, ten-day quarantine on arrivals from certain ‘high-risk’ countries in early July. 

While until mid-September, none of these countries shared a border with Switzerland, rising infection rates in neighbouring France and Austria forced authorities to make a call they hadn't made with the dozens of other countries on the list. 

Authorities broke France and Austria up into regions, with Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset implying that border regions would not be placed on the list regardless of infection rates due to economic and social ties. 

READ: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus 'catastrophe' by protecting cross-border workers 

The government said it was following the lead of other European nations that are already implementing “a region-based approach” to neighbouring countries.

“Taking a regional approach means that persons returning to Switzerland from risk areas will be required to go into quarantine, but not persons returning from regions on the Swiss border,” authorities said, adding that the decision takes “account of the close economic, social and cultural exchanges that take place in the border regions”.

Berset said the decision to avoid placing border areas under quarantine reflected the need to show 'pragmatism, proportionality, modesty' in decision making. 

'No intention of shutting down the economy'

Berset told a news conference Friday that the government had decided to place nine of 13 French regions, including Paris, on its at-risk list, as well as Vienna in neighbouring Austria.

“We have seen a number of new infections in France, which are today already higher that the numbers in March and April,” he said, stressing that “this is a situation to take seriously… We're trying to keep the pandemic under control.”

EXPLAINED: Which countries quarantine travellers from France?

At the same time, he said, the government had sought a “pragmatic” approach and thus exempted the border regions in France and other neighbouring countries from the order, set to take effect from Monday.

“The idea is to preserve life along the borders where people live and work,” he said, pointing to heavy cross-border trade, as well as the many people who live on one side of the border but work on the other.

To define a risk area, Switzerland has set a limit of more than 60 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days.

In the nine French regions, as well as in Vienna, this number is exceeded, meeting the Swiss criteria for a risk country.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's quarantine requirement

However, Berset said that regions of France and Austria bordering Switzerland will not be added to the list, as local economies depend on the cross-border workers.

That is especially the case in the Lake Geneva region, which relies heavily on over 125,000 frontier workers from France.

“We have no intention of letting entire swathes of our economy to shut down”, Antonio Hodgers, president of the Geneva Council of State told Tribune de Genéve. 

In Geneva, some 60 percent of the city's health workers live in France.

The government also added France’s overseas territories to the countries at risk, meaning that all travellers from those regions will have to self-quarantine as well.

'We are together, for better or worse'

President of the Geneva Council of State, Antonio Hodgers, welcomed the decision – saying it would ensure the region didn't suffer. 

“We are very satisfied with the device chosen because there will be no negative impact on our region” Hodgers told Le Temps

Jacques Gerber, Minister of the Economy and Health, agreed. 

“It is a pragmatic solution which makes it possible to keep the balance between the necessary health measures and the economic, cultural and social activity of our regions” he said. 

Hodgers said the decision was a reflection of the reality of the region's interconnected ties and that imposing a lockdown along an arbitrary border would be ineffective. 

“The French did not want to relive the suffering of this spring either. We are in the same living area, therefore in the same sanitary basin. We are together, for better or for worse, in a way.”

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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