Its nice to sail in calm waters, but our task is to face and find solutions

THE INTERVIEW

Federal Councilor Alain Berset spoke to Corriere del Ticino about the management of the pandemic: ‘For me, the normality is that of last December, this is another normality’ His role in the Federal Council positioned him at the forefront for months, dictating measures to resist coronavirus. Today he admits that the virus itself has always dictated the rhythms. Saturday he was in Ticino to celebrate the National Day. We approached him for this all-round interview.

Its nice to sail in calm waters, but our task is to face and find solutions
© Ti-Press / Alessandro Crinari

Its nice to sail in calm waters, but our task is to face and find solutions

© Ti-Press / Alessandro Crinari

In his speech at Monte Carasso he spoke of great cohesion between the different areas of the country, yet in recent months distances have also emerged.

Two area have to be recognised. Initially, regions and cantons were touched in very different ways. Ticino was hit harder than the rest, then Vaud and Geneva, while others were less affected by the first wave, also protected by the measures taken for the whole countrys - but then the conscience of having to face the situation all together took over. There, solidarity and cohesion emerged. We experienced this with agreements and cohesion between countries, between regions, politically and individually. It struck me to observe unity between individuals.

The issue of individual responsibility has become central at this stage. But it also brings with it the first negligences. How can this be explained?

They are new balances difficult to find. I must say that the Federal Council had already understood this in February, that this challenge would last a long time. Patience is needed, even if the desire is that the virus stops immediately, as soon as possible. Now looking across the last weeks figures were low, we are in the middle of summer, people behave in a different way compared to March or April and frequenting bars and shops, to travel, and all this creates more risks. For this reason, it is necessary to remember the basic rules, which are the ones that most protect us. Now it is up to the cantons to take the measures proportional to the situations they gradually identify and identify. The example of Geneva, which closed the clubs, is exemplary. The canton observed that it was part of the problem and acted consistently. For other cantons, it would make no sense to close clubs that may not even exist. Here, the ability of the cantons to choose the most coherent measures passes through this phase.

How do you rate the first response from the cantons?

During the first phase it was immediately clear how difficult it could be for the cantons to face such a crisis. Ticino had done it quickly, establishing coherent measures, of course, but at that moment the Federal Council decided to take the situation in hand, imposing the same measures on the whole of the country. In so doing, the situation has remained largely under control. In June, in the face of the drop in infections, powers returned to the cantons, but the Confederation ensured that some basic measures, valid for all, remained in the foreground. Just a month and a half has passed since then, and I must say that the cantons have adapted to the best. They are called to ensure the tracing of contacts, knowing that if they lose it, it would be up to them to introduce more restrictive measures. And let’s go back to the example of Geneva, which was at the limit. But the cantons are called to be prepared and solid for a long time, because the virus is a crisis that will not end at the end of this summer.

After the obligation to use the masks on public transport, the FOPH recommended the cantons to introduce this obligation in shops last week. Is there still a federal hand then?

The decision on public transport was motivated by the fact that the infrastructures are national. But the Confederation has also imposed the individual distance to a metre and a half, hand hygiene, the obligation to provide their personal details to the restaurants, for the rest now the ball is up to the cantons. I can guarantee it: the situation has not changed; and these discussions about the possibility of extending the use of masks, well, are up to the cantons. The cantons are called to do it, to discuss it. Some decided to extend the taxation, such as Vaud and Jura, others did not. But imposing such an extension is not part of the role of the Confederation today.

Has the Federal Council set a threshold beyond which power would return to Bern?

No, he didn’t. Unfortunately, the infection has increased in recent days. We must fight together decisively against this trend. Today the reasoning then must be another. Beyond tracing, the cantons are responsible for taking more restrictive measures in their territory. This is the logic according to which we want to work today.

Speaking of changing logics, in the first phase of the fight against the virus we noticed the entry on the scene of a social rather than party politics. Is our vision naive? And today?

I don’t find it a naive vision, far from it. In the acute phase, in March, until mid-April, I actually felt strong support from all parties. The action of the Federal Council also took further effect thanks to the support of the cantons and the population. That was precisely the moment of the crisis, not the moment therefore for great political debates: it was necessary to make the most useful decisions possible. In fact, the pace was not set by politics, but by the virus that was advancing. Then, once the situation was under control, politics quickly came knocking again, and at that point we heard every possible idea emerge. On what? Well, on how to reopen, on how we should have opened everything immediately, on the fact that we shouldn’t have closed, on the ways we should have walked. None of this had emerged in the first phase, that of the crisis. Then the lid opened. All normal, we would miss it, is part of the political debate, of the democratic life of a country. Parliament has also returned, with a first session in early May, and then again in June. In short, a form of return to normal, which has also involved the cantons.

Today it seems to me that two small groups have been created: those who say that the virus did not even exist, and those who tell us that we are crazy, that we have to close everything, that we should never have reopened. In the middle, there is the overwhelming majority of the population, who try to find the way with us, knowing that such research is not easy and that indeed the whole is very fragile. But even that the situation is not as serious as it seemed to be. « that of the crisis. Then the lid opened. All normal, we would miss it, is part of the political debate, of the democratic life of a country. Parliament has also returned, with a first session in early May, and then again in June. In short, a form of return to normal, which has also involved the cantons. Today it seems to me that two small groups have been created: those who say that the virus did not even exist, and those who tell us that we are crazy, that we have to close everything, that we should never have reopened. In the middle, there is the overwhelming majority of the population, who try to find the way with us, knowing that such research is not easy and that indeed the whole is very fragile. But even that the situation is not as serious as it seemed to be. « that of the crisis. Then the lid opened. All normal, we would miss it, is part of the political debate, of the democratic life of a country. Parliament has also returned, with a first session in early May, and then again in June. In short, a form of return to normal, which has also involved the cantons. Today it seems to me that two small groups have been created: those who say that the virus did not even exist, and those who tell us that we are crazy, that we have to close everything, that we should never have reopened. In the middle, there is the overwhelming majority of the population, who try to find the way with us, knowing that such research is not easy and that indeed the whole is very fragile. But even that the situation is not as serious as it seemed to be - it is part of the political debate, of the democratic life of a country.

Health is under its wing. The crisis just experienced has clarified how health means a very broad concept, more public than non-private.

Yes, the pandemic has made this clear. The discussion is not individual, it is not only being or not being sick, but it also concerns those close to me, the attention I have to pay to others. If I pay attention, if I respect the rules, I also protect my family, the people most at risk in our society. Yes, we have had a public health experience that goes beyond the infrastructure itself. Then, having said that, it should be stressed that the infrastructure has worked well, in its various sizes and applications. At the time of the crisis, we realized the importance, for the whole of society, of jobs that had been little considered up to now. Just think, for example, of those who allowed us, despite the difficulties, to go on shopping.

© Ti-Press / Alessandro Crinari
© Ti-Press / Alessandro Crinari

Were you ever afraid at that stage -of the virus as of the enormous responsibility of its role?.

When you are active within a political mandate, even more so in the Federal Council, we know how nice it is to navigate with the best possible conditions. In those moments everything is fine, everything seems easy. But in reality we are not here for this, we are not in charge for this. Our mandate provides that we make ourselves ready in the moment of a strong impact, in facing a crisis. I have always known this, in all these years, and I was prepared for this moment. True, the responsibility is enormous. But if you are not ready for this, then you are not doing politics. As for the virus, I have never been directly afraid of myself. There are various reactions to a threat like this, present yet intangible, subtle, not well defined. Well, that threat didn’t stop me from doing my job. Of course, I was cautious, precisely because I am aware of the importance for me of maintaining the ability to act, in my role, to protect the population. It was therefore important for me not to get sick, especially in the strongest period of crisis, when for weeks we worked seven days a week, between 18 and 20 hours a day. You had to be fit, physically present.

Just what importance has communication had in the fight against the pandemic, between slogans and smiles, social networks and physical presence?

A great importance. But since the beginning of March we were convinced that it was necessary to act as little as possible through prohibitions and sanctions, but rather by convincing the population to do what was necessary, explaining how and why. It was clear from the start: the communication should have been very intense, and we very transparent. And this meant saying what we knew and what we didn’t know, highlighting our doubts, modesty in the face of a situation that made what was true a false day the next day, and vice versa. This worked well, because the population understood that the moment was serious and that our aim was to do our best with the whole country. The slogans themselves had their importance. That «Stay home!» for example, it had the effect of convincing people to really stay there. In the same way, the exhortation, before the Easter holidays, not to create queues at the Gotthard worked. When I saw the empty highway, well, I was struck by it; it was a demonstration of how we can be united in difficult times. In short, communication had its role, but it only works if combined with seriousness and transparency.

© Ti-Press / Alessandro Crinari
© Ti-Press / Alessandro Crinari

You also spoke of normality in your speech. What is it to you today?

For me it remains what we lived until December, without paying attention to distances, greeting with passion those I meet, both with a handshake and with a hug, and drinking a glass of wine at the restaurant without necessarily providing the general information. There is no such normality today. We are experiencing a return to a certain normality, to a new normality. We travel and frequent bars, restaurants and shops. However, we are called to do it with certain attention, to distances, to hygiene. It is a new normal. Will it remain so? We will see, I really hope that we can return, not immediately, it is clear, to shake hands. To a normality as similar as possible to the previous normality.

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