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Innovation is good, but cracking the U.S. market still key for success, says Swissnex Boston CEO Christian Simm Innovation is good, but cracking the U.S. market still key for success, says Swissnex Boston CEO Christian Simm Innovation is good, but cracking the U.S. market still key for success, says Swissnex Boston CEO Christian Simm
On paper, Switzerland tops the charts when it comes to innovation. But how well does that translate in real life? We’re speaking to Christian Simm, CEO of Swissnex about how innovators in Switzerland are connecting to the rest of the world.
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Kasmira Jefford
ESA: Coronavirus-led drop in air pollution is but a “short blip”
New satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows how the decline in traffic, air travel, and production activity has led to a sharp drop in air pollution levels since lockdown measures were put in place in China and in Europe. But Joseph Aschbacher, director of the ESA’s Observation Programmes, says the effects are but a “short blip” in the history of pollution.
Cindy Roberts
Switzerland to tap markets for CHF 12 billion after virus dents finances
Switzerland will raise funds from financial markets more frequently this year to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “The Federal Council’s measures to cushion the economic consequences of the spread of the coronavirus increase the federal government’s short-term financing needs,” the Federal Finance Administration said in a statement Tuesday. It plans to double its holdings of short-term instruments from around CHF 6 billion to CHF 12 billion francs. It also said it will step up sales of bonds. The government has put together an economic aid package worth about CHF 42 billion, including CHF 20 billion in guarantees for bank loans to small businesses. The finance department is considering topping up the program after companies borrowed CHF 6.6 billion in the first few days. Demand for wage subsidies has also been overwhelming. Businesses idled by coronavirus containment efforts have applied in record numbers for aid to keep workers on the payroll. Switzerland has reported 16,176 cases of COVID-19, with 373 deaths. Also Tuesday, the government said it has set up a scientific task force to advise officials and coordinate research on coronavirus. The aim is to identify research topics and products or services where Swiss science can quickly make a significant contribution to combating COVID-19, the interior ministry said. A global race is underway to find better ways of preventing, diagnosing, treating, and coping with the virus. In many countries, new government funds await scientists whose work shows promise. Matthias Egger, president of the National Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation, will head the task force. Last month, the foundation put out an urgent appeal for proposals on research into coronaviruses, earmarking CHF 5 million for projects. The call received more than 270 applications, Swiss radio RTS reported.
Ana Maria Montero
Luxury hotel offers retreat from pandemic for a privileged few
Social distancing is nothing new at Zurich’s Le Bijou Luxury Apart-Hotel. Now, for those seeking greater seclusion, the self-contained, fully automated units come with in-room doctor’s visits, coronavirus testing, and round-the-clock nurses’ care. Thanks in part to the special packages, occupancy rates are running around 50-60 percent despite the pandemic, says CEO and co-founder Alexander Hübner. He rejects criticism that he’s exploiting the health crisis for personal gain, saying he’s responding to the needs of his guests.
Ana Maria Montero
COVID-19 infections rise among nurses sent to battle without protection
A lack of protective gear is leading to an alarming rise in infections among healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus, according to the Geneva-based International Council of Nurses. CEO Howard Catton says the outbreak is aggravating the huge shortage of nurses globally, estimated at 9 million.
Cindy Roberts
Strong take-up for Swiss emergency loans
Switzerland’s CHF 20 billion emergency loan program for companies hit by the coronavirus crisis is just days old but the government is already looking to top it up. Since the program was launched Thursday, nearly 32,000 companies have taken out bank loans of CHF 207,000 on average, corresponding to CHF 6.6 billion, Eric Jakob, head of the Economic Promotion Directorate, said Monday. He said that the Finance Department was now discussing whether to expand the program beyond CHF 20 billion. While Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said from the beginning that an increase was possible, it “could become a topic faster than expected,” Jakob said at a news conference. Some 115 lenders are participating in the program, designed for small and midsized businesses. Companies can borrow up to 10 percent of their annual income but no more than CHF 20 million. The government said it has set up a working group to look into helping larger companies in need of cash. On Monday, ABB became the latest Swiss blue-chip to issue a profit warning, citing the pandemic and weak oil prices. The engineering group expects all divisions to record lower revenue for the first quarter. The company scrapped its earlier 2020 targets, saying it is no longer providing financial guidance because of the economic uncertainty. Last week, LafargeHolcim, the world’s largest cement maker, also ditched its profit forecast for 2020. KOF barometer plunges A leading indicator of the trends in Switzerland’s economy plunged in March, driven by the manufacturing sector. The KOF economic barometer fell to 92.9, the lowest since the Swiss National Bank scrapped its cap on the franc in 2015. The long-term average is 100. “Accordingly, the Swiss economy can be expected to see a marked decline in growth rates in the near future,” the think tank said. “This plunge of the barometer reflects the first economic consequences of the accelerated spread of the coronavirus.” EasyJet has grounded its entire fleet of aircraft in response to the collapse in demand for air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The budget airline said it could not put a firm date on when commercial flights will resume. “We continue to take every action to remove cost and noncritical expenditure from the business at every level in order to help mitigate the impact from the coronavirus,” CEO Johan Lundgren said Monday. “The grounding of aircraft removes significant cost.” EasyJet had already ceased operations in Geneva, where the UK budget airline is the biggest operator. André Schneider, CEO of Geneva Airport, told CNNMoney Switzerland last week that he is reducing the workforce to cut costs but doesn’t expect the federal government to close the hub. UBS Group is sticking to its previously announced dividend for 2019. The bank will ask its investors to approve a payout of USD 0.73 per share at its annual meeting on April 29, according to the agenda published Monday. Swiss markets supervisor FINMA has advised companies to carefully consider the level of dividends as the pandemic takes a toll on balance sheets. UBS said it will conduct the meeting online, in line with the government’s ban on gatherings of more than five people. The government’s count of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 climbed to 15,475 from 12,161 on Friday. At least 295 have died.
Hannah Wise
Swiss start-ups face existential threat from Covid-19
In any year, start-ups face an uncertain future. Now the coronavirus pandemic is adding to the strain, as venture capital funding cools. Jordi Montserrat, the co-founder of Venturelab, a support organization for budding entrepreneurs, says the federal government isn’t doing enough to help start-ups and that cantons may hold the key to their survival.
Olivia Chang
Swiss distilleries swap out drinks for disinfectant
Swiss distilleries are using high-proof alcohol to make disinfectant after Swiss regulators relaxed the rules, allowing them to distribute to any retail store or individual. While it’s a way for businesses to recoup losses during the lockdown, Augustin Mettler, the president of Swiss Distilleries, argues that it’s not sustainable in the long-term. “You also have to understand, when a Swiss distillery produces drinks, they normally use Swiss raw materials like fruits or grains,” he said. “Of course, this is much more expensive than if somebody imports raw alcohol for industrial issues.”
Tanya König
Herd immunity a no-go, says Ticino doctor
With the rising economic toll of containment measures, governments are asking whether the cure isn’t worse than the disease. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for example, initially wanted to allow COVID-19 to infect so many people that it would fizzle out on its own for lack of a host. Dr. Paolo Ferrari, chief medical officer of the cantonal hospitals in hard-hit Ticino, says herd immunity is not an option in an unvaccinated population as it would cost too many lives.
Tanya König
Tips for tackling coronavirus anxiety
Feeling anxious about your health, your business or your family during the coronavirus crisis? Marta Ra, CEO of Paracelsus Recovery, offers advice on how to cope with stress and shares five tips to keep you mentally healthy.
Olivia Chang
Swiss company develops coronavirus treatment—for masks
Swiss specialty chemicals company HeiQ has developed a treatment to make face masks more resistant to coronavirus. The ETH spin-off plans to treat 500 million masks with the antiviral product over the next four to eight weeks, says CEO Carlo Centonze. He wants to expand the solution to other products in hospitals, including gloves, medical gowns and curtains.
Ana Maria Montero
Antibody testing may be key to getting the healthy back to work
Governments are pumping money into their economies to limit the damage from virus shutdowns when they should be trying to get the healthy back to work safely. According to Lily Hua Fang, AXA professor of financial market risk at INSEAD, mass antibody testing could be the answer.
Ana Maria Montero
Counting the cost of coronavirus
When it comes to putting a figure on the economic impact of the shutdown in Switzerland, Avenir Suisse says it isn’t straightforward. It says its estimates are conservative and warns of impending inflation issues post-crisis.
Greta Ruffino
No, I don’t need Xanax—I need a COVID-19 test
Some doctors in Switzerland are not testing everyone with COVID-19 symptoms, and when they do, it can come at a high cost—both to patients' wallets and their personal safety. A personal report. Last week, I woke up with chest pains accompanied by dry cough and shortness of breath. My first thought was: Could this be the dreaded coronavirus? With “corona” being basically the only topic on everyone’s lips over the past few weeks, what else would I think? Nevertheless, I tried to stay calm: I am under 30 years old and in good health, so my chances of becoming seriously ill should be low. Should I go to the hospital? Well, no: Government guidelines warn that you can infect other people. Forget about calling the hotline: A friend of mine—also in the “not at risk” category—waited on the line for hours, only to be told to self-isolate. So I called my health insurer, where a kind lady gave me the name of a nearby emergency clinic that accepts walk-in appointments. She wished me a speedy recovery. Upon arrival at the clinic, the receptionist asked for my symptoms. “Chest pain, cough and some shortness of breath,” I said. “Great,” she exclaimed, visibly annoyed, and gave me a mask to wear. “You can sit over there and wait for your turn,” she said, pointing to area where at least another five other mask wearers were sitting—a scene that did not exactly inspire feelings of safety. The waiting room was, in fact, divided into two areas: people with masks on—the ones with coronavirus symptoms—and everyone else. I sat down, smiled at the lady in front of me who looked a bit afraid, and waited patiently for my turn. The doctor called me after a twenty-minute wait, and by the time I reached his office, which was one floor higher, I was gasping for air. The doctor found that although my temperature was 37.5 degrees, my lungs were doing fine. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to test everyone, and even if you tested positive, what would we do about it?” he asked. “Your symptoms are mild. We will check your blood to exclude other diseases. For the rest, I urge you to practice self-isolation and take some Xanax to calm down.” According to Steven Taylor, author of “The Psychology of Pandemics” and a clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, the younger generations are concerned about the economic impact that COVID-19 is having on their lives. As for me, while I was encouraged to hear that my lungs were doing fine, I wanted to know if I was infected so that I could warn people I had recently been in contact with. Including the cameraman I traveled with to Ticino—currently the hardest hit canton in Switzerland—last week who suffers from asthma. However, the doctor insisted that there is not enough capacity to test the “not at risk” part of the population. This is despite almost a quarter of coronavirus patients in Italy—currently the country hit hardest by the pandemic—being between the ages of 19 and 50, with an increase in young patients requiring hospitalization. There are similar figures coming out of the U.S., where 705 of the first 2,500 coronavirus patients are between the ages of 20 and 44. And even if younger people have better chances of surviving the virus, they may very well be asymptomatic carriers—which makes getting tested all the more critical. The doctor finally agreed to test me. The visit resulted in a hefty CHF 490 bill, to be paid upfront: CHF 204 for the coronavirus test, the rest for the doctor’s visit and other tests. Unfortunately, I only had CHF 280 on me at the time. When I mentioned this to the receptionist, she threatened not to proceed with the test—and only relented when I promised to pay the rest the next day. I am now patiently awaiting the results. In the meantime, I am working from home, sticking to a strict self-isolation regimen, drinking turmeric tea—and definitely not taking Xanax.
Hannah Wise
Coronavirus crisis could change gig-working forever
Coronavirus lockdowns have stoked demand for some gig workers like delivery drivers and supermarket assistants. For others, though, the crisis has meant the loss of employment, with few, if any, social protections. While the Federal Council has announced new measures to help them, it’s not clear who will benefit, says Yves Schneuwly, managing director at Coople, a gig jobs platform. He hopes that the government’s recognition of the plight of gig workers will lead to more security for them in the future.
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