The coordinator

Times of crisis require clear-cut courses of action and structured approaches. During the pandemic it was necessary to simplify procedures. Martina Mühlemann, co-manager of the COVID-19 task force and crisis unit, had to stay level-headed at all times.

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Dealing with a flood of enquiries

Suddenly, in March, the borders were closed. There was great uncertainty – particularly among cross-border commuters. The rules were unclear at the time and this led to a barrage of enquiries to SEM. “At the peak we were receiving up to 3,000 enquiries from people all over the world, every day – imagine that!” says Martina Mühlemann. How does one deal with so many incoming emails and telephone calls? “A task force made up of staff members from different divisions was set up within a very short space of time. After creating email templates for the most frequently asked questions, the incoming enquiries were sorted into different categories, depending on the topic, and then answered,” says Martina Mühlemann. Sixty people worked in the task force every day, but it was nonetheless a Herculean task to reply to everyone within 48 hours.

From task force to crisis unit

In June the entry requirements for nationals of EU/EFTA member states were eased and the volume of enquiries fell. The number of people in the task force was reduced and the staff returned to their normal duties. But coordination between the various divisions became difficult, so a crisis unit was set up to coordinate cross-thematic issues and create structures that could be put in place and dismantled at short notice. On the front line was Martina Mühlemann, and she continues to co-manage the crisis unit with Lukas Schürch. “We deal with all matters relating to the entry and stay of persons in Switzerland – at the political, economic and social level. The work is very interesting but also intense because of the constant time pressure,” she says. The crisis unit is now organised in such a way that it can be deployed for other emergencies in the future.

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Chronology of events

13 March:
Switzerland imposes entry restrictions at the Italian border.

16 March:
Entry restrictions and checks are imposed at the borders to France, Germany and Austria.

24 March:
Restrictions are extended to all Schengen states.

16 April:
The Federal Council defines the practice for hardship cases.

7 May:
SEM establishes a coronavirus task force.

15 May:
Entry restrictions are eased for unmarried couples.

15 June:
Entry restrictions are lifted for nationals of all EU/EFTA states.

11 August:
SEM establishes a crisis unit.