In quarantine, Switzerland bans sale of toys

“Why are toys forbidden, mom?” I hear a child ask in the supermarket.

Intrigued, I follow the voice. A boy, six or seven years old, stands with his mother in front of the toy shelves in the supermarket. A red and white tape, like those used in crime scene investigations, blocks access to a display of card games, playdoh, domino, puzzles, slime, Rummikub, barbies, Swiss wooden cows, and other toys.

The child wants to buy Uno, a card game. But the game is out of reach, behind the forensic tape.

“We can only buy essential things,” I hear the mother explain.

The Swiss, to avoid discrimination among stores in quarantine times, don’t allow supermarkets to sell non-essential products. The rationale is the following: in order to minimize contagion, most stores have been ordered to close. Only stores selling essential goods remain open, it would not be fair to let supermarkets sell what other stores can’t sell. Sounds fair, but then, these are not normal times, wouldn’t the majority benefit from having supermarkets sell all their range of products?

“Who decides what’s essential, Mom?”

Good question. I’m left wondering. Yeah, really, who decides? I picture the decision-maker. In my mind, he’s a short bureaucrat dressed in grey. Despite lockdown, he’s still sitting in his federal office in downtown Bern. The only man left in the stone sand federal palace. He’s wearing glasses, has dark circles under his eyes. On his left hand, he holds a long, continuous-form paper, the list. A red pen in his right hand, he goes down the inventory, item by item, crossing out what he deems non-essential products.

I’m at the vegetable section of the supermarket, selecting some eggplants when I overhear mother and son again. The mother is saying they won’t be able to buy the Pokémon candles for his birthday cake nor the Pokémon tablecloth, plates, and cups. All birthday party decoration is forbidden. The boy’s chin starts trembling; I think he’s going to have a tantrum.

“Why?” he screams.

The mother says they’ll draw a Pokémon on the paper plates; they’ll buy instead white candles and decorate them, plain white candles are still on sale.

“You’ll see, we’ll be creative, do something nice.”

I admire this mother trying to cheer up her son. Not only is school closed, there will be no birthday party, no guests, he can’t go to the park, Easter holidays are canceled, he can’t even go upstairs to his neighbor, and he can’t buy Uno cards.

On my way out of the store I grab a bottle of Campari, and one of Gin, we need to stock up for quarantine. Liquor is not forbidden, it is, of course, essential. I’ll toast tonight to the civil servant in his federal office who, on second thought, does have good judgment.

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