Coronavirus: Mountain light show sends message to Swiss

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

  • Published
Message of hope on MatterhornImage source, Zermatt Tourism

Every evening this week, Switzerland's most famous mountain, the Matterhorn, has been beaming out messages about the coronavirus outbreak - "Stay at Home" one evening, "Hope" the next.

That last message is particularly needed as cases pass 12,000. More than 200 patients have died from the virus in a country of 8.5m people - a death rate that is only slightly below that of France.

It's not just Zermatt, the resort beneath the Matterhorn where the ski slopes are empty, that needs cheering up. The whole country does.

Image source, Zermatt Tourism
Image caption,
The Swiss flag has also been beamed on to the Matterhorn

It's four long weeks since the ban on public gatherings was announced.

Some of the high points of the Swiss year - such as the Geneva Motor Show and the Basel Watch Fair - were cancelled.

It's three weeks since the elderly were advised to stay at home, and the rest of us to travel as little as possible, two weeks since the schools were closed, 11 days since bars, cafes, restaurants and all non-food shops were shut and everyone who could was told to work from home.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The Alpine resort of Zermat, like all the country, is closed for business

And still the coronavirus cases keep rising. The army has been mobilised to help hard-pressed hospitals.

Switzerland is a rich country, but now 150,000 businesses have put workers on reduced hours. The government has announced a 42bn franc (£35bn; $44bn) support package, but has already admitted it won't be enough.

Image source, Swiss armed forces
Image caption,
Swiss soldiers have been mobilised for the first time since World War Two

The Swiss attribute their wealth to their readiness to work hard and be sensible. Now they are working hard at following the rules, they are being sensible and staying in.

Alain Berset, the health minister, praised the population but said it was too soon to tell if the measures were slowing down the virus and flattening that famous curve.

And so the lockdown continues. One day blurs into another and a nation famous for its punctuality is beginning to forget what time it is.

But Easter is a big date in the Swiss calendar. That's the time of year the mountain snows start to melt, and the weather becomes warmer. It's when many Swiss head down to the Ticino, landlocked Switzerland's Riviera. But not this year.

Ticino, is in the grip of the coronavirus, the first and worst-affected canton, as shown by the darkest area of the map below.

Image source, Swiss health office
Image caption,
This count shows cases per 100,000 people across Swiss cantons - the worst-hit is Ticino in the south

On Friday the health minister said no-one should go anywhere at Easter. It sounds as if no-one will be going anywhere for quite some time.

This is, Alain Berset said, a marathon, not a sprint, and we are not even halfway through yet.