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Updated: 2 days 17 hours ago

Switzerland's sole volunteer paramedic service

Sat, 01/12/2019 - 12:00
Croce Verde (Green Cross) Lugano is a non-profit that runs an ambulance service, a low-cost dental practice and first aid training courses. Volunteers are the backbone of this organisation.  The association based in Lugano in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino celebrates its 118th anniversary this year. It relied exclusively on the work of volunteers until 1989 before becoming more professional. However, Croce Verde still depends on a pool of 110 volunteers, in addition to the 95 people it employs. These volunteers offer pre-hospital medical assistance free of charge during their spare time. This structure is unique in Switzerland; no other canton has integrated volunteers into its emergency relief efforts.  250 hours of commitment What motivates volunteers to join Croce Verde? Reasons range from the need to help, the adrenaline that comes with emergencies, the relationships that are created with patients and their families, the unpredictability of the role, the feeling of ...
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What’s the real risk from avalanches?

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 16:31
On Thursday, an avalanche crashed spectacularly into a hotel restaurant at a small mountain resort in eastern Switzerland. Three people received minor injuries. What are the avalanche risks in Switzerland and how are such hazards monitored?  At 4.30pm on Thursday, a 300 metre-wide avalanche swept down the Schwägalp in canton Appenzell Outer Rhodes burying over 25 vehicles in a car park and crashing into the restaurant of the Hotel Säntis. Search and rescue operations are continuing.  How common are avalanches in Switzerland? Over the past 20 years, there has been an average of 100 reported avalanches a year where people were involved. On average, 23 people die in avalanches every year, the majority (+90%) in open mountainous areas where people were off-piste skiing, snowboarding, or backcountry touring on skis or snowshoes.  In controlled areas (roads, railways, communities and secured ski runs) the 15-year annual average number of victims dropped from 15 at the end of the ...
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Why Trump’s absence could benefit Davos

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 13:06
If this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) annual general meeting does indeed take place without US President Donald Trump, it won’t matter too much and the Swiss resort of Davos probably won’t even lose much money, say some Swiss media.  Trump announced on Thursday he was cancelling his planned visit over a government shutdown. It is not clear if the partial shutdown will still be ongoing when the summit takes place in the Swiss mountain resort on January 22-25.  Certainly WEF founder Klaus Schwab should be disappointed as he likes to “bathe in the light of the powerful”, writes Fredy Gsteiger, diplomatic correspondent of Swiss public television, SRF.  Ueli Maurer, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, will also miss a rare opportunity to speak face to face with the US president. Otherwise, however, Trump can be seen as “a burden rather than an enrichment for the WEF”, says Gsteiger, “especially as he would hardly have shown up with any creative new initiatives but ...
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Switzerland's leniency on criminals, explained

Fri, 01/11/2019 - 12:00
When compared with many other countries, Switzerland tends to hand down shorter sentences, particularly for violent crime. And usually only repeat offenders or serious criminals have to do prison time. Why? Closer inspection of the penal codes of European countries shows that German-speaking countries, including Switzerland, issue relatively lenient criminal sentences. Anyone who kills a person in Switzerland while suffering “great mental distress” could, under certain circumstances, get just one year in prison. In other countries, the penalties are much more severe, as the following chart shows: In Switzerland, a life sentence can be given for murder, but under Swiss criminal law “life” doesn’t mean that the perpetrator remains in prison for the rest of their days. + What does “life” mean in Swiss criminal law? After 15 years, sometimes after just ten years, a conditional release is possible. It is generally the norm in Switzerland that a criminal is conditionally released ...
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300-year-old watchmaker creates crypto storage timepiece

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 18:03
One of Switzerland’s oldest watchmakers, which traces its roots to 1718, has entered the blockchain age with a timepiece that stores cryptocurrencies. The watch from A. Favre & Fils aims to create a new type of crypto wallet with integrated mechanical elements. Laurent Favre, the tenth generation of the watchmaking clan who revived the family tradition in 2008, says the product is no mere gimmick. It is intended to keep the mechanical watch relevant in the modern age. The family firm almost foundered in the late 1970s when the Japanese quartz watch fad threatened to wipe out the traditional Swiss watch industry. For Favre, marrying the latest technology with centuries-old craft is the best way to avoid a reoccurrence of such hard times. “It’s a bit like figuring out the future of steam engines in the age of electric trains,” he told swissinfo.ch. “You have to keep adding relevant features that advance the design.” Unlike other brands that have released limited edition watches ...
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Nation urged to vaccinate against tick-borne disease

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 17:40
Ticks have become such a menace across Switzerland that the government is urging everyone to get vaccinated against one of the diseases they cause - early summer meningo-encephalitis (ESME). Health insurers will reimburse vaccination costs.  Previously only recommended in specific regions, the net for vaccinations has now been cast wider. That's because of an increase in cases of ESME, a disease which attacks the central nervous system: 380 cases were reported in 2018, compared to 100 per year in previous years. According to the government information platform ch.ch, the most widespread tick species in Switzerland is the wood tick. It prefers deciduous woods with abundant undergrowth, the edge of the forest and forest paths, and waits on low growing plants until a warm-blooded host (a person or animal) brushes against the plant. Ticks do not fall from trees. Ticks have to be properly removed with tweezers. If part of the tick remains under the skin for longer than around 36-48 ...
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The Swiss adventures of 90-year-old Tintin

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 14:20
Tintin the nonagenarian: 90 years ago on Thursday, the character was published for the first time in a Belgian newspaper. And though strongly associated with Brussels, the globe-trotting reporter – along with creator Hergé – also had Swiss links. Indeed, just three years after Tintin’s 1929 unveiling in the Belgian Petit Vingtième paper, the character’s cartoon strips were seen in the Swiss weekly L’Echo – one of the first publications outside Belgium to publish him. And a few decades later, in 1956 Tintin himself – as well as Hergé (1907-1983), who kept a house in the Villars ski station in canton Vaud – would make a real appearance in the Alpine nation. The 18th of Tintin’s adventures, the Calculus Affair saw the reporter flying into Geneva airport before heading to Nyon and Rolle in search of the famous Professor Calculus, who has mysteriously disappeared after attending a nuclear physics conference in Geneva. Indeed, Professor Calculus himself (who is rescued) was based ...
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Why one party is opposing the criminalisation of homophobia

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 13:40
Last year, parliament approved legislation to criminalise homophobia. Now, a small ultra-conservative political party have decided to launch a referendum against the law. Party representative Marc Früh explains why. The legislation approved by parliament in December amounts to an extension of anti-racism norms to encompass discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation: a legal modification that allows for homophobia to be prosecuted just like racism, or anti-Semitism. For the rightwing Federal Democratic Union (see infobox), however, the new law is an attack on freedom of expression. Claiming that “valid opinions will in future be criminalised,” the group has decided (without the support of any other parties) to launch a referendum against it. The Federal Democratic Union The Christian, ultra-conservative party describes itself as the “party of ethical values”, founded on “the Bible and the world of God”. It occupies a marginal space in the Swiss political landscape: it ...
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Foreigner voting rights: broad variety of opinions

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 12:00
What do swissinfo.ch readers make of the idea of granting foreigners in Switzerland the right to take part in votes and elections? The more than 200 answers to our question cover a broad range. We tried to sort them in different categories. Considering the bare figures, it’s not particularly astonishing that easing the voting rights for foreigners is a recurring topic in Swiss politics. About 25% of the residents in Switzerland have a foreign passport. In Geneva it is even 40% and in Basel City 36%. But the non-Swiss have very limited possibilities to express their opinions at the ballot box – an obvious flaw in the Swiss-style democracy as international comparisons have criticised. At a national level, foreigners in Switzerland have no say at all. But things are slightly better – and more complex - at the level of the 26 cantons, which enjoy wide-ranging political autonomy. In Neuchâtel and Jura, foreigners can take part in votes and elections at the cantonal level. However, ...
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Global democracy looking better as Switzerland slips

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 18:02
Increased political participation around the world has halted a democratic backslide, finds the latest democracy index from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Switzerland has dropped in the rankings, largely due to low voter turnout. The much-heralded retreat of global democracy, if not definitively stopped, was at least “paused” last year, according to the EIU’s Democracy Index, published on Wednesday. In contrast to various recent reports advertising end times for liberalism and civil rights, the London-based magazine writes that while 42 countries’ democracies declined in 2018, the overall global score remained stable; and almost 50 countries improved. The main cause of the pushback, which halted a three-year decline, was a boost in the ‘political participation’ category: turnout figures, party affiliation, engagement with the media, and adult literacy levels all increased. Apart from the Middle East and North Africa, participation increased in all regions of the ...
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What does the future hold for electric vehicles?

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 15:31
Switzerland has a new strategy to promote greater use of electric vehicles, but the Alpine nation remains far behind leading electric mobility pioneers such as Norway. The Swiss plan comes amid questions about how environmentally friendly electric cars really are.  Sales of electric cars in Switzerland increased by 40% in 2017, compared to the previous year. But the 4,929 electric vehicles sold only represented 1.6% of total vehicle sales, according to the Federal Statistical Office. This compared to Norway, where 20.8% of cars sold that year were electric. By 2025, only electric or hybrid vehicles will be allowed on Norwegian roads.  But Switzerland has new ambitions when it comes to electric vehicles. Last December, the Swiss Federal Energy Office published its “Roadmap for electric mobility 2022”, a strategy document which contains plans to increase the share of rechargeable tourism vehicles (electric and hybrid) on Swiss roads to 15%.  Electric vehicles will thus become ...
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Inside Philip Morris International: On a mission to convince the skeptics

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:00
The world’s largest tobacco company says it wants you to stop smoking. What is it like to work inside Philip Morris International as it tries to radically reinvent itself? In short: never boring. The inside of Philip Morris International’s (PMI) operational headquarters in Lausanne looks more like the headquarters of a tech company in Silicon Valley than an old cigarette company. In contrast to the straight edge façade, the interior is bright, busy, and almost playful with purple work pods and tall glass phone booths scattered around as people zigzag across the building. This is perhaps emblematic of the major transformation underway at PMI. Or, so it says. As Tinat Chowdhry, manager of market support for global communications, puts it, “people think of us as the Marlboro maker. It is going to take time to convince them that we are genuine about our commitment to a smoke-free future.” Inside the Multinationals Series This article is part of a series on what it is like to ...
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Authorities seek collective health insurance for asylum seekers

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 10:29
The Swiss government has put out a public tender for a collective health insurance to cover all asylum seekers in its federal asylum centres. But could the move end up being expensive? All asylum seekers have right to basic healthcare in Switzerland. Provisionally admitted foreigners and refugees have to take out basic health insurance within three months of submitting their asylum requests. If they have already been allocated to a particular canton, it’s the canton’s job, but if they are still in a federal centre, the task falls to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). The federal agency has to pay for the insurance as well as any arising healthcare costs until the asylum seeker is allocated to a canton. The SEM is however now looking, via public tender, for an insurer to offer basic insurance to all asylum seekers in federal centres. This would help reduce administrative costs – but should not affect coverage, as asylum seekers have the right to the same medical cover as ...
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‘Cool’ Swiss tech puts on a show in Vegas

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 17:47
The cream of Swiss innovation is being presented at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas – for the first time ever. It is hoped the decision will reap financial rewards. In all, 32 companies, most of them start-ups, feature in the imposing 200m2 Swiss pavilion. The aim is to stand out among the 4,400 exhibitors. The CES event itself, the world’s largest expo for home electronics, is expected to attract more than 180,000 visitors over four days. Among the innovations on show: a ring that transforms your hand into a computer mouse, an app that lets the audience at the next Paléo music festival create works that will be projected onto festival screens in real time, and a bottle opener that remembers everything that it opens. There’s a huge and diverse range of ideas from finance to biometrics, to video games and drones. It’s the drones that form the highpoint, with demonstrations showing how the devices can be used by amateurs, but also in a professional context, such as ...
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The shady origins of gold refined in Switzerland

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 12:00
Most of the gold in the world passes through Switzerland. This is a business worth CHF70-90 billion ($70-90 billion) depending on the year. Gold arrives here in unrefined form, and leaves the country in all its glittering purity. Sometimes, though, it is of highly dubious provenance. The government recognises the risk, which is why it recently issued a report on the subject. This report raises concerns over the exploitation of mine workers, and makes several recommendations to Swiss firms active in the field. Swiss refineries process 70% of the unrefined gold mined in the world each year. Four of the nine major players in the global gold industry conduct most of their business here in Switzerland. While the gold originates in ninety different countries,  roughly half of all the gold imported for processing in Switzerland comes from Britain, the United Arab Emirates or Hong Kong – three countries that produce no gold themselves. Gold accounts for 63% of Britain’s exports to ...
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High prices cloud future of alpine railways

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:25
Chances are you won’t get a seat on a Swiss train to travel on Europe’s highest railway if you’ve booked a 12-day European travel package, including flight, for as little as $600. Yet such cheap packages to Europe are being offered to Chinese tourists, and China is the key market for Switzerland’s Jungfrau Railways and its pricey mountain trips. The company’s rail journey to the ‘Top of Europe’ as it’s billed – with the upper mountain station at 3,454 metres above sea level (11,332 ft) – has been one of the Swiss tourist industry’s biggest success stories, attracting record numbers year after year. A large reason for this has been the company’s winning strategy of making deals with tour operators in China, convincing them to include the ‘Top of Europe’ in their Europe packages. According to a report from Swiss public television, SRF, the Chinese accounted for well over half of all tourists who took the Jungfrau train in 2017, when the railways reported a record 1.07 million ...
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How Santander’s ditching of Andrea Orcel stunned finance industry

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 10:11
Cancel the welcome drinks and pulp the business cards: Andrea Orcel, the high-profile dealmaker from UBS, will not be joining Santander as chief executive after all. The announcement that Mr Orcel’s ascension to the top of Spain’s largest lender has been terminated following a row over a €50m compensation package has stunned the banking industry. Indeed, its capacity to shock was second only to the fact that Mr Orcel was appointed by Santander in the first place. Mr Orcel had expected to receive tens of millions of euros in Santander shares upon joining the bank to recompense him for €50m of deferred stock he earned during his seven-year stint at UBS. Under the terms of Mr Orcel’s contract, the Swiss bank was entitled to withhold his UBS shares because he was joining a rival. However, in a statement on Tuesday night — released moments before the parliamentary vote on Brexit in the UK — Santander said it had “become clear” that the cost of reimbursing the Italian-born banker ...
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Swiss plans for whistleblowers fall short, critics say

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 10:11
Swiss government plans to update laws on whistleblowers will fail to provide sufficient protection for employees who reveal corporate wrongdoing, according to anti-corruption campaigners. The role of whistleblowers in uncovering European company scandals has been highlighted this year by Danske Bank, where a former executive helped to reveal a €200 billion money-laundering scandal. Legislative changes proposed by the Swiss government fall short of international best practice on protecting whistleblowers from dismissal and the circumstances in which they can report corruption to law enforcement authorities or the media, said Martin Hilti, executive director in Switzerland of Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation. “Unfortunately, Swiss lawmakers so far have consistently avoided providing adequate whistleblower protection. They seem to have not yet understood its importance for employees, but also the value added for Swiss companies and Switzerland as a ...
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What winter used to look like in Switzerland

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 16:22
Snow in Swiss cities is sparse these days. This was not always the case, as historical black-and-white photographs taken between 1930 and 1970 show. A look back into the Swiss winter wonderland of yore reveals heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures, even in major cities such as Bern, Zurich and Geneva. In the winter of 1962/1963, lakes Zurich and Constance froze over, making it possible for people to walk on the ice. Even the camels from the Knie Circus trekked across frozen Lake Zurich. In our series #swisshistorypics we travel back in time to look at photographs which document past life and culture in Switzerland.
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Swiss voters asked to decide on urban sprawl

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:00
As urban development continues apace, should a freeze be placed on the creation of new construction zones? Such is the proposal of a people's initiative put forward by the youth chapter of the Green Party to be voted on by the Swiss on February 10.  For opponents, the initiative is too radical, and the recently revised Planning Act is more than adequate to reasonably manage urban development. Is Switzerland covered with too much concrete and asphalt? Officially, 7.5% of the country is covered by buildings, roads or other human-built infrastructure. But the figures, which date to 2009 and are the most recent available, do not tell the entire story. Even though each year a surface area equal to the size of Basel disappears underneath concrete, Switzerland is not comparable to countries like the Netherlands or Belgium, where 37% and 25% of the surface area, respectively, is occupied by buildings, railways or roads. Neighbouring countries also have greater proportions of ...
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