Swiss add $14B to jobless fund as COVID-related claims soar

GENEVA (AP) — The Swiss government on Wednesday moved to inject over 14 billion francs ($14.5 billion) into its unemployment insurance system, as requests from companies poured in seeking help for workers representing 37% of the wealthy Alpine country’s total workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“These figures are historic,” Economy Minister Guy Parmelin told reporters in Bern, the capital. “Unfortunately, it needs to be said: 190,000 companies have requested indemnification and partial unemployment for more than 1,9 million workers.”

He said Switzerland’s unemployment rate, which is low by international standards, rose to 3.4% from 2.5% in March, and is expected to top 4% next year. The Federal Council, Switzerland’s seven-member executive body, announced plans to inject 14.2 billion francs to the state unemployment insurance system.

The coronavirus crisis has brought “enormous repercussions on the financial state of our unemployment insurance system,” Parmelin said, adding: “The good news is that the applications for partial unemployment have since stabilized.”

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Parmelin said Swiss companies had been hit “full-on” by the crisis and said the state support measures were “extremely expensive,” alluding to the government’s plans to gradually ease such support — which could cause further difficulties for businesses.

The Federal Council also announced Wednesday new financial support and other measures to help sectors including the media, childcare, the travel business and sports industry.

Health and Home Minister Alain Berset also announced an accelerated timetable for the reopening of religious services that had been shuttered at the height of the pandemic in the rich Alpine country in late March. Religious services, as well as ceremonies like marriages and funerals can resume as of May 28, when they had previously been scheduled to restart next month.

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