IBM recently teamed up with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, MIT, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to create a supercomputing consortium to support COVID-19 research efforts. Using this ultra-fast computing technology together with several AI-powered tools, the company hopes to contribute to a more rapid response to the virus. Alessandro Curioni, IBM’s head of research in Europe, says the initiative is a hit with researchers and hints that there may be a role for Switzerland.


Sweetness: Volunteers in Paris whip up treats for healthcare workers
Over 6,000 volunteers around Paris are baking pastries for medical personnel working in COVID-19 units. The project, Vos Gâteaux—or “your cakes” in French—is the brainchild of Maud Arditti, whose aunt, a hospital worker, thought her fellow staffers could use some sweet treats. It started at the end of March and has already expanded to four other European cities. It’s also been included in the new movement, which highlights acts of kindness around the around the world during the coronavirus pandemic.

Switzerland takes lockdown exit up a gear
Switzerland’s government accelerated its lockdown exit on Wednesday, saying its coronavirus containment measures have succeeded in curbing the infection faster than initially hoped. Starting May 11, restaurants, museums, and libraries will be allowed to reopen and training sessions can resume for some sports. Certain border restrictions will be eased, while trains, trams and buses, which have been running on a reduced schedule, will revert to the normal timetable. Earlier this month, the government only authorized schools and shops to reopen in mid-May. Officials are anxious to unlock an economy headed for its deepest downturn in decades after six weeks on hold. They said they based their decisions on both economic benefits and risk factors such as the increase in social contact and the ability of businesses to protect people. “On May 11, we take a big step, we can go shopping again, we can go out to eat, we can go to museums, and children can go back to school,” said Interior Minister Alain Berset, warning that people would have to be disciplined to avoid a new outbreak. Hairdressers, garden centers, and hardware stores already went back to work this week. Events drawing more than 1,000 people remain banned until the end of August. Switzerland hosts hundreds of such gatherings yearly and they contribute significantly to the economy. The Federal Council will decide on events of less than 1,000 people next month. It said it expects to allow professional sports teams to resume play in June, but without spectators. President Simonetta Sommaruga announced CHF 1.275 billion in state aid for Swiss International Air Lines and its sister company Edelweiss. Both are owned by Lufthansa, which is seeking a EUR 9 billion bailout from the German government. Both Credit Suisse and UBS issued statements of support for the rescue package, which consists of federal guarantees on bank loans. “The Swiss economy and Switzerland’s population need a strong and functioning airline,” said Thomas Gottstein, chief executive officer of Credit Suisse. “As a lender, we are convinced that the Swiss Federal Council has found a viable solution.” The council maintained its ban on gatherings of more than five people except in some sports and said all businesses and facilities must put in place measures to prevent people from transmitting the virus. For restaurants that means a maximum of four people per table and a distance of two meters between tables. “The crisis isn’t over yet,” Sommaruga said. “We can’t immediately go back to life as it was before. We will have to live with the crisis for a while and with the economic consequences.” Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said unemployment rose to 3.3 percent from 2.5 percent in mid-March. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, or SECO, is forecasting a slump in gross domestic product of 6.7 percent for the year. Switzerland recorded 143 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 29,407. At least 1,408 have died. The rate of infection is now about a tenth of what it was at its peak.

Data is key to keeping coronavirus at bay, says Avenir Suisse
Switzerland lacks a data-gathering strategy to avoid triggering a surge in coronavirus infections as the economy reopens, says Avenir Suisse, an economic think tank. Director Peter Grünenfelder is urging the government to work with the private sector as it ramps up testing and prepares to deploy its contact tracing app. The Swiss will probably have to accept the use of some personal data to fight the epidemic, he says.

Exoskeleton takes its next step, despite the crisis
As start-ups try to negotiate their way through this tumultuous economy, one based in Lausanne is on solid footing. The medtech start-up TWIICE, which makes lower-limb exoskeletons that allow paraplegics to walk again, says it has enough funding for now. But co-founder Tristan Vouga worries for his fellow start-ups. While the government has put together a credit program worth CHF 154 million for start-ups, Vouga says loans carry their own risk. “You have to pay that money back, and you can only do so if during these times you are able to produce value….And if you’re locked down you cannot produce value.”

Switzerland to outline next stages in lockdown exit
The Swiss government is set to announce the next stages of its plan to slowly unwind its coronavirus restrictions and rekindle its beleaguered economy. The Federal Council meets Wednesday to map out a lockdown exit strategy for everything from sports and cultural activities to tourism, restaurants, and big events such as conferences. Talks on when to reopen Swiss borders and ease bans on gatherings of more than five people are also on the agenda. “What awaits us next week is an extremely important menu to face the next stages,” Interior Minister Alain Berset said last Wednesday. Swiss officials are also expected to announce an aid package worth about CHF 1.5 billion for Lufthansa unit Swiss and CHF 500 million for other companies in the industry, Tages-Anzeiger reported on Tuesday. The package, promised several weeks ago, is said to consist mainly of state guarantees for bank loans. The government has already scheduled three phases of the transition to normality, or at least a semblance of it. The first began this week with the reopening of a few businesses, including hairdressers, garden centers, and hardware stores. If the infection remains under control, children can go back to school and more shops will reopen on May 11. Institutions of higher education, museums, zoos, and libraries will have to wait until June 8. What happens next is the big question. Officials are weighing risk factors, such as the increase in social contact and the ability of businesses to protect people, against the economic benefits. After six weeks in limbo, Switzerland is headed for its deepest downturn since 1975 in the aftermath of the oil price shock, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, or SECO. It is forecasting a slump of 6.7 percent for the year, followed by a gradual rebound in 2021. The jobless rate shot up in April even as the government began helping companies cover the costs of keeping workers on their payrolls to avoid mass layoffs. Unemployment will probably reach 3.4 percent by the end of April, up from 2.9 percent in March, said Boris Zürcher, head of SECO’s labor department. Governments across the globe are rolling out rescue packages for their ailing airlines as the travel slump drags on. The International Air Transport Association has warned that the pandemic could bankrupt half the world’s airlines. Lufthansa is pressing Angela Merkel’s coalition for a multibillion-euro bailout that doesn’t involve ceding control to the German government. European rival Air France-KLM last week received pledges of 11 billion euros in loans and guarantees from the French and Dutch governments. Eric Jakob of SECO warned on Monday that residents of Switzerland shouldn’t plan to travel internationally before 2021. Jakob said that even if air travel starts up again, it would remain uncertain for a long time.

Lion’s Den entrepreneur sees opportunity in crisis for start-ups
Start-ups have been among the hardest-hit companies as coronavirus shuts down economies. A lack of liquidity was one issue, with hesitant investors adding to the troubles. But as we return to work, tech entrepreneur Bettina Hein says start-ups are well positioned to take advantage of lower valuations and cheaper talent. European start-ups could even gain an edge on Silicon Valley, where the handling of the crisis has left many companies in “chaos,” she says.

Outpatient medical practices to reopen
Outpatient medical practices open today as part of the Federal Council decision to ease the lockdown around Switzerland. According to Yannick Hallemans, osteopath at BodyLab in Zurich, his business lost almost 95 percent of revenue the past six weeks since the practice was available only for patients with severe conditions.

Switzerland relaxes coronavirus lockdown
Day 1 of Switzerland easing its coronavirus #ockdown. We’re on the ground to take a first look at shops reopening.