Switzerland might increase 20bn franc emergency scheme: Finance minister

People use a pedestrian crossing in front of Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Geneva on March 20, 2020, as the Swiss government further tightened measures against COVID-19. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 March 2020

Switzerland might increase 20bn franc emergency scheme: Finance minister

  • The government has signed off on a 20-billion-Swiss-franc emergency scheme
  • The government has urged people to stay at home, imposed strict border controls and banned gatherings of more than five people

VIENNA: The Swiss government could increase a 20 billion Swiss francs ($21 billion) loan program to help keep companies afloat and safe jobs amidst the coronavirus crisis, the finance minister told weekly Sonntagsblick.

Like other European countries, Switzerland is pumping money into its crisis-hit economy. The government has signed off on a 20-billion-Swiss-franc emergency scheme under which companies can get state-backed, no-interest loans of up to 500,000 Swiss francs via their banks.

“It is possible that we might have to step this up,” Ueli Maurer said in an interview published on Sunday. “The 20 billion are tight.”

More than 30,000 loan applications have been submitted already, and guarantees worth more than 4 billion francs have been given on Thursday and Friday alone, the finance minister said.

Asked how much money the state was ready to provide, he said: “As much as is needed. We are borrowing to safe jobs.”

“If we do not pump money into the economy quickly, we will have tens of thousands of unemployed within weeks.”

Maurer had pointed out on Saturday that the government was happy to help with loans, but that the money must be paid back and could not cover income losses.

More than 13,000 coronavirus cases and 235 related deaths have been confirmed in the Alpine country of 8.6 million people.

The government has urged people to stay at home, imposed strict border controls and banned gatherings of more than five people to curb the epidemic’s spread.

Maurer said it was important to prepare now for how best to begin to ease the restrictions in public life. “The current situation is not sustainable in the long term, neither mentally nor economically.”


Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 26 May 2020

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

  • Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures

ROME: Italy’s Muslims gathered in parks and public squares to celebrate the end of Ramadan, as many of the country’s mosques remained shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Islamic places of worship have been going slow on welcoming back congregations, despite an easing of a months-long lockdown, in order to guarantee social distancing and other preventive steps required under an agreement between Muslim communities and the government.

Mosques and prayer rooms will have to respect the same strict rules which have been imposed on Catholic churches. Halls will have to be sanitized before and after every prayer and a maximum of 200 people will be allowed, even in the biggest places of worship. For outdoor prayers a limit of 1,000 people has been set and each worshipper must be spaced at least one meter apart from the next. Those with a temperature above 37.5 degrees cannot enter.

Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures.

“Happy Eid Al-Fitr to all Muslims in Italy as they have two reasons to celebrate,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), said in a message. 

“This is not the only festivity closing the holy month of Ramadan, it matters even more to us all this year in Italy as it finally marks the return of our faithful to the mosque after several months of lockdown due to coronavirus. The Muslim faithful all over Italy now pray to God to accept the fasts, prayers and every good deed carried out during this holy  month and bring peace and blessing to our homes, so that phase two in the fight against COVID-19 in Italy will start in the best way possible.”

Many Muslims celebrated Eid at home with immediate family members. Those who decided to meet and pray together outside their households did it while “strictly respecting” health protocols and social distancing to avoid risk of infection, UCOII said. The organization asked people to display the same “utmost prudence and responsibility” when entering every place of worship from now on.

At Milan’s Al-Wahid Mosque Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini set up spacing for 140 new prayer mats. There are different entry and exit points for men and women, along with dedicated courtyards. 

Sanitization is carried out regularly while detergents, disinfecting gel and personal protective equipment are being offered by city authorities. “We pray for the inner and outer health of believers and Italian people,” Pallavicini said at the start of Eid prayers.

Almost 200 people gathered to pray in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Muslims arranged their prayer mats and moved about in line with social distancing rules. Posters in Italian and Arabic told people that hugging was not allowed. 

“Even if we are in an outside space, nobody has to get too close,” the imam told his flock before prayers commenced. “It is mandatory and for the sake of everyone’s health.” There were children in the congregation too, and everyone wore face masks.

“I am so happy that I am finally meeting my friends for this prayer, but we have to stay apart,” 13-year-old Samir told Arab News. “We will have time to embrace, to play together in the future, when the virus will be gone.” He said he had missed going to his mosque, near Furio Camillo station, during the lockdown. 

“I prayed with my father, of course we were following prayers on YouTube and on Facebook. But it was not the same. Here I really feel part of a group sharing a faith. And it is great to be together again,” he added.

In Piazza Re di Roma, in the southern part of the city center, 250 Muslims gathered to pray. “We just prayed together, and stayed in the square for an hour only,” 31-year-old Latif told Arab News. “The celebration will be with our families later on.”

An outdoor celebration took place in the Sicilian capital Palermo with Mayor Leoluca Orlando also joining in. “We are happy for this celebration which marks another sign of the return to normality of our communities,” he told Arab News. “Being able to pray together is one of the most important needs for a religion as that improves the sense of community. Now we can do it again together: and that’s a great sign not only for the Muslim community but for the entire population of Palermo.”