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COVID-19 epidemic and CERN: some answers to your questions

A summary of the 17 March webcast meeting on the COVID-19 epidemic and CERN

COVID19 webcast
The question and answers session that took place on 17 March 2020 (Image: CERN)

On Tuesday, 17 March, a live questions and answers session was broadcast via webcast to the CERN community. CERN’s Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti, and the COVID-19 response team answered your questions regarding the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the lives of the CERN community members and on CERN’s activities. Fabiola Gianotti announced that CERN has entered stage 3 of the epidemic (as defined by the health authorities). Consequently, by 20 March, activities on the CERN sites will be limited to those essential for the safety and security of the facilities.

A summary of the Q&A, which examined what this means for you, your family and your work conditions, is presented below. Some complementary information has been added. Please note that countries are constantly adapting the measures in place according to the evolution of the pandemic, so for up-to-date information follow the COVID-19 information page. CERN’s Management encourages you to stay informed and to rigorously follow the rules and recommendations of the Host States or the countries that you may be in. This is crucial to ensuring your safety and that of your relatives, as well as that of our fellow citizens, and thus contributes to overcoming this epidemic globally.


Friedemann Eder, Head of the Relations with the Host States service:
On the rules for crossing the borders between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries

France has taken measures to restrict travel on its territory for at least two weeks. Travel in France will be allowed only under the conditions described in this document. Anyone who violates the rules will be penalised. In order to travel, you need a certificate of special dispensation to travel (attestation de déplacement dérogatoire), which can be downloaded from this site.

Regarding border crossings, the Swiss authorities have restricted entry to Switzerland from Austria, France, Germany and Italy to Swiss citizens, holders of a residence permit in Switzerland and persons with a certified professional reason for entering Switzerland. Individuals will be allowed to enter Switzerland in the event of emergencies, in particular medical emergencies. According to current information, crossing the border for medical examinations is possible upon presentation of a written certificate, to be requested from a health professional.

The Swiss Mission recalls that, according to the principle generally accepted in international law, the State exercises sovereignty over all persons on its territory, including those of foreign nationality and those enjoying privileges and immunities. Such privileges and immunities are granted to the latter in order to enable them to perform their official functions effectively and, in return, these persons must respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. It follows from this principle that persons enjoying privileges and immunities will, in the event of a pandemic, benefit from the same measures, under the same conditions, as the population resident in Switzerland.

Rest assured that we will try to find a solution to any problems that arise, insofar as possible.

For more information on the new Swiss provisions, see:
The Press Release of the Swiss Federal Council
The FAQ page of the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration
The list of open customs in the Canton of Geneva


James Purvis, Head of the HR department:
On the location of teleworking

The preference for stage 3 is to keep members of the personnel close to CERN, in line with the guidelines of the national authorities to minimise travel and ensure safety. But there are cases of recently recruited fellows and staff members holding limited-duration contracts who are far from their family and for whom it would be preferable to telework from outside the local areas. Note that, in those cases, CERN will not be liable for professional accidents that occur during travel and telework.

Extended teleworking brings us into uncharted territory. To mitigate the risk of isolation, physical distance and lack of connection, we encourage you to reach out to colleagues and supervisors as much as possible, via audio and video calls.

On the difficulty of teleworking while taking care of children, in the context of school closures

While teleworking is not a substitute for childcare, these exceptional circumstances call for more flexibility. The possibility to take special leave in addition to teleworking can be discussed with the supervisor and implemented by the departmental administrative officer (DAO) on a case-by-case basis.

On arrivals and departures of personnel during this period

At the end of this month, 61 arrivals and 86 departures are due and almost every case is unique. Whether the person has arrived in the region or not will affect the solution that will be agreed upon. Starting a contract on telework is not ideal, but it might be a solution for some, while postponing the start of the contract will be an option for others. These options will have to be discussed by each person with their supervisor and DAO.
Regarding departures, most of the formalities can be done even during the telework period because the administrative services are running. We are working on solutions for the handing over of CERN equipment (badges, dosimeters, etc.). However, the challenges facing those who are prohibited from returning home because of border closures will be taken very seriously and the possibility of prolonging contracts (within the existing legal framework) will be looked into – again, on a case-by-case basis.

Eckhard Elsen, Director for Research and Computing:
On the IT infrastructure for efficient teleworking
The IT department is working very hard to ensure that CERN’s IT infrastructure copes with the surge in use, especially of videoconferencing tools. Negotiations are currently under way to increase the number of licenses and flexibility of usage of specialised software programmes, which are currently under strain.


Lluis Miralles, Head of the SMB department:
On the availability of the various entrances and the hostels
Entrance E and the inter-site tunnel are subject to the same regulations as regular Swiss-French borders, with the additional CERN-specific regulations imposed by the Host States. As such, they remain open for authorised CERN personnel and the personnel of authorised CERN contractors. However, we cannot guarantee that they will remain so, as the border situation evolves quickly.

The hostels will stay open during stage 3, providing hospitality to those persons who are essential to the safety and security of CERN’s personnel and infrastructures. In any event, both facilities remain subject to the regulations of their home countries.


Frédérick Bordry, Director for Accelerators and Technology:
On activities on site during stage 3
Over the last two weeks, on-site activities have already been greatly reduced. The implementation of stage 3 speeds up the process by shutting down all non-safety-related and non-critical activities. In particular, we are putting all accelerators, experiments and facilities in a similar condition to the end-of-year technical stop. A large part of the infrastructure is in safe mode already and the rest should follow in the next three days. Activities on site will be strictly limited to the persons essential for the safety and security of the sites and for maintaining the systems needed to enable mass teleworking. Many of these people will be at CERN for only brief periods, to limit the population on site at any one time. Those whose activities are essential to CERN will be added to an official list of personnel authorised to be on site, drafted by each department head. This list may evolve under special conditions.

On the LS2 schedule
During stage 2, LS2 activities were already reduced but kept running. As of now, all LS2 activities are suspended. Subsequently, we will have to adapt the schedule of the restart to the evolution of the situation. We are continuing many activities remotely, for instance for projects such as LIU and HL-LHC, on which committees are continuing to work and for which future workshops are being prepared. As soon as the machines are in safe mode, we will prepare for the future, planning various scenarios for the restart of the activities and redefining the LS2 schedule.


Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General:
On the duration of stage 3
There is no clear answer. CERN’s priority is to ensure that the return of personnel to the site and the resumption of normal activities will take place in a safe environment. Until then, stage 3 will remain in place. We will be in touch with you, as much as possible and whenever needed. As soon as a transition to safety is achieved, we will plan for the most effective way to restart activities on site.


The question and answers session ended with a message of hope from Fabiola Gianotti, who reminded the CERN community that “it is in the genes of our community to cooperate, to face challenges and recover fast from hard times. Let’s keep it that way and keep supporting each other remotely”.