Switzerland is planning to re-open its borders with Germany, France and Austria as part of a gradual loosening of restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic imposed in March.
Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said the four countries have agreed in principle on the coordinated reintroduction of the free movement of people by June 15.
“Discussions with my counterparts have shown a common intention to go back to normality, also at the borders, provided the epidemiological situation allows us to do so,” she told a news conference on Wednesday.
“Tourism can resume between the three countries from mid-June, provided the conditions are right,” she confirmed. Certain restrictions could be eased beforehand, possibly already this weekend, according to Keller-Sutter.
She said talks are underway to define the details of preliminary measures, notably for family reasons or property owners. The announcement follows similar statements by the German and Austrian governments.
However, the resumption of international railway links, student exchange programmes or cross-border shopping trips would have to wait for the next phase in the Swiss government’s COVID-19 exit strategy to be decided at the end of this month.
Migration restrictions between Switzerland and Austria have already been eased in the past few weeks.
There were no immediate plans to unblock the borders with Italy, one of the hotbeds of the pandemic in Europe. Keller-Sutter declined to give a date, saying a coordinated approach also with other European countries was necessary. Currently only cross-border workers can cross into Switzerland from Italy.
The European Union has warned that the free movement of people policy must be re-introduced once the COVID-19 epidemic is brought under control.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it is part of the single-border Schengen agreement. Some of the main north-south transit routes in Europe run through Switzerland – a popular holiday destination notably for German visitors.
Borders were closed in mid-March as part of wide-ranging restrictions on public life and business activities.
Meanwhile, the Swiss federal government adopted legal provisions that allow travellers to seek partial to full refunds for disrupted train and bus journeys in the country.
Starting in 2021, delays on public transport lasting more than one hour will be subject to at least a partial refund of the price of a ticket. The minimum refund is set at CHF5 ($5). Currently transport companies are not obliged to compensate passengers for extended delays.
Under the new provisions, passengers who cannot complete their journey because of a delay or cancellation will have several options, including cancelling their trip before departure and receiving a full refund. TLTP