People in Switzerland are voting on a Covid vaccine certificate law, after a campaign characterised by unprecedented levels of hostility in a country renowned for its culture of compromise.
As in much of Europe, Switzerland has seen growing anger over restrictions aimed at reining in the pandemic, and pressure to get vaccinated.
But in a country where there are referendums every few months in a climate of civility and measured debate, the soaring tensions around the vote have come as a shock. Police increased security around several politicians who have faced a flood of insults and death threats.
The polls close at noon (11am GMT) on Sunday, with the results expected within the following hours as the vast majority vote by mail before polling day.
Voters are deciding whether to approve amendments to the Covid law which, among other things, provide the legal basis for a Covid certificate that says if a person has been vaccinated or has recovered from the virus.
Opponents say the certificate, which has been required since September for access to restaurants and other indoor spaces and activities, is creating an “apartheid” system.
Final opinion polls showed about two-thirds of the voters supported the Covid laws.
Police blocked the square in front of the seat of government and parliament in Bern on Sunday, anticipating protests after the result.
Observers have warned that the vote could exacerbate tensions, and even spark a violent backlash among the anti-vaccine crowd if results do not go in their favour.
During the campaign, fences were erected around the buildings to protect them during anti-vax demonstrations.
They were often led by the “Freiheitstrychler” or “Freedom ringers” – men dressed in white shirts embroidered with edelweiss flowers and with two large cowbells suspended from a yoke resting on their shoulders.
Some of the demonstrations have led to violent clashes with police, who have used rubber bullets and teargas to rein in the crowds.
The referendum comes as the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, first detected in southern Africa and classified as a variant of concern, has rattled countries and markets around the world.
It is the second time in less than six months that the Swiss have been called on to vote on the government’s response to the pandemic. In June, 60% of voters approved prolonging national measures.