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Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Keystone / Alexandra Wey

The level of infections has stagnated in Switzerland, where a partial shutdown is in place and vaccinations are underway. The government began gradually easing some national measures imposed in mid-January to curb the spread of the virus.

This content was published on March 5, 2021 - 11:26
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  • Senior health official Virginie Masserey described the epidemiological situation in Switzerland on March 2 as “uncertain”. The number of new daily infections has stagnated around the 1,000-mark for the past two weeks. The reproduction rate (R-rate) has risen above 1 and new more contagious variants represent almost 70% of all new cases. Meanwhile, the number of new hospital cases and deaths due to Covid-19 continue to fall.
  • More than 9,300 people have died in connection with Covid-19 in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.
  • On February 17, the government announced it would 'cautiously and gradually' loosen restrictions put in place on January 15. Starting on March 1, it plans to re-open shops, museums and sports facilities.
  • Rules for entering SwitzerlandExternal link were adapted on February 8. Depending on the type of travel, you might have to fill out a form for incoming travellers, provide proof of a negative test and/or go into quarantine. Further information on entry requirements can be found on the website of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM)External link or in the travel section and links below.
  • Health regulator Swissmedic has given the green light to two Covid-19 vaccines: from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. It has withheld approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, demanding more data on efficacy and quality. Approval of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also pending. The authorities have reserved a total of over 30 million vaccine doses. As of February 23, around 884,025 had been delivered.
  • The complete updated data on the pandemic can be found in our article Coronarvirus: the latest numbers or in article below.
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What’s the current situation?

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New daily cases of Covid-19 increased sharply in October 2020, topping 10,000 at the beginning of November. National and regional measures have managed to bring the numbers down slowly, and by late February 2021, new case numbers were averaging around 1,000 per day. However, health officials warn that new coronavirus variants, which are around 50% more contagious, pose a risk of a third wave of infections.

Since January 4 (vaccinations began in late December), the government has started to roll out its vaccination planExternal link. It has set an ambitious target: to inoculate six million people or 70% of the population – on a voluntary basis – by summer, or up to 70,000 vaccine shots per day.

The authorities have reserved over 30 million vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Curevac and Novavax for the population of 8.6 million people. So far, there are two vaccines approved and available in the country, those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Others should follow.

Kai Reusser / swissinfo.ch

A survey conducted on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in January found that 41% of people surveyed said they would be willing to get vaccinated immediately.

Latest measures

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A partial lockdown has been in place since January 18, with non-essential shops closed and teleworking mandatory. This followed the closure of restaurants and barsExternal link on December 22. Ski areas have remained open, as long as they conform to safety regulations. 

On February 24, the government confirms its plans to loosen some restrictions, including re-opening shops, museums, libraries and sports facilities starting March 1. It also said it would allow outdoor gatherings of up to 15 people.

However, restaurants and bars will remain closed, cultural and sports events with spectators remain banned and the work-from-home policy will be maintained. Indoor private gatherings will remain limited to five people.

Kai Reusser / swissinfo.ch

The government plan foresees several stages for its exit strategy based on key factors, including infections, hospital admissions and the so-called reproduction number. Other factors are the spread of new strains of coronavirus and progress on the country's vaccination programme, which has been delayed due to a shortage of supplies. The government will consider the situation regularly and decide on a further easing every four weeks.

Since February 1 anyone found to be in breach of measures to fight the pandemic, such as failing to wear a mask on public transport (see below) or attending large private gatherings, can be fined CHF50-CHF200, depending on the infraction.

Cantons which had a reproduction rate under 1 or a seven-day case average that was under the Swiss average were able to relax certain measures. However, from January 9, all cantons were ordered to impose the same restrictions.  

Masks and testing

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Passengers on Swiss public transport have been obliged to wear face masks since July 6 and on flights since August 15. On public transport, the mask requirementExternal link applies to everyone aged 12 or older travelling on trains, trams, buses, mountain railways, cable cars and ships. Federal Railways conductors can ask anyone not wearing a mask to leave the train; anyone refusing will be fined. 

Face masks must be worn on all ski installations, including chair lifts and drag lifts. Winter sports enthusiasts must also wear a face mask not only in closed waiting rooms but also when queuing outside.

The government  has put aside a budget of up to CHF400 million to provide different types of masks. It remains the responsibility of hospitals, companies and private households to ensure own stocks.

The government adopted an extended testing strategy along with a contact-tracing concept as it moved to ease social distancing measures. Swiss residents can also download the SwissCovid smartphone app, a contact-tracing system.

The list of vulnerable people at risk of falling severely ill if they catch the virus includes people over 65 and those with certain pre-existing conditions or illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. It also includes pregnant women.

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Financial consequences

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Finance Minister Ueli Maurer warned that the shutdown and bailout packages could result in a deficit of up to CHF40 billion in 2020. 

In total, the government has set aside more than CHF65 billion to support the economy, as a large part of economic activity in the country came to a temporary standstill, including CHF40 billion in emergency loans for struggling companies. It has also presented a plan to offer additional loans totalling up to CHF154 million for start-up companies. Parliament approved the multi-billion franc bailout package. 

The promised economic package provides relief for companies with liquidity problems to obtain transitional bank loans. Companies hit by the crisis can defer payment of social insurance contributions temporarily and without interest. These measures also apply to self-employed persons whose turnover has fallen.

The government is also throwing a lifeline to businesses threatened by bankruptcy. Firms can delay declaring their financial difficulties to the courts, with smaller companies being given at least a three-month grace period to pay off their debts.

The pandemic has taken a greater toll on Swiss women than men when balancing professional and personal responsibilities.

There is also money to cover the imposition of short-time work at firms while other funds have been set aside for hardship loans and to support specific sectors such as event management. Partial unemployment claims have increased sharply due to the pandemic and are expected to continue to rise. On September 1 the period allowed for placing employees on short-time work increased from 12 months to 18 months.

The government agreed an additional CHF14.2 billion in financing for unemployment insurance, announcing it would begin easing out extraordinary measures granting unemployment and short-term work benefits to more people. 

On January 20 the government extended short-time work support to apprentices and people with fixed-term employment contracts. In addition, the statutory waiting period will be waived and the maximum period of entitlement to short-time work compensation of four accounting periods in the event of more than 85% loss of working hours will be abolished. This change is retroactive for the period from March 1, 2020, to and including March 31, 2021.

Following concerns voiced by the sports sector, the government announced it was allocating CHF500 million for sports leagues, associations and organisations in the country. Among the biggest beneficiaries are the professional football and ice hockey leagues, which could receive as much as CHF350 million to shore up the 2020-2021 season.

Switzerland announced a CHF400 million aid package to developing countries. Half of the funds would go to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross as an interest-free loan, the foreign ministry said. Funds would also be provided to the International Monetary Fund and other international organisations helping developing countries during the crisis.

What do you need to consider when staying in and travelling to Switzerland? 

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Entering Switzerland remains complicated during the pandemic. Holders of a Swiss passport or a valid residence permit for Switzerland may enter Switzerland from any country. For all other individuals, entry restrictions may apply. You will find information on the website of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM)External link.

Normal entry requirementsExternal link apply to people entering the country from Schengen states, EU member states, certain small European states and certain states outside Europe. SEM maintains a list of such countriesExternal link.

On February 8 the rules for people entering Switzerland were adapted. This flowchart External link(below) gives an overview of the new rules. If entry is permitted, you must go into quarantine if you arrived from one of the countries and regions with a high-risk of infection External linkthat features on a list External linkregularly updated by the Federal Office of Public Health. The ten-day quarantine can be shortened if people test negative for Covid-19 after seven days. Switzerland now requires negative coronavirus PCR test results (within 72 hours) for people over the age of 12 entering the country from high-risk areas or by plane. In addition, most incoming travellers have to complete an online form before arriving.

FOPH

Swiss travellers are advised to check entry conditions in other countries. The foreign ministry advises residents to avoid unnecessary international travel. 

France has tightened the rules for travellers entering from the EU and Schengen area states, including Switzerland. Since February 1, arrivals from inside the EU and several other neighbouring states such as Switzerland must present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. All arrivals, not just by air and sea, but by land too, must comply with the test rule. There are exemptions, including for cross-border workers and hauliers, and anyone living within 30km of the French border.

Swiss International Air Lines has significantly reduced its flight schedule. Check on the SWISS websiteExternal link for details. 

In order to prevent and slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible, people known to be affected have been isolated in Switzerland. Those worried about a possible infection are advised to phone the doctor’s office first, rather than showing up in person. The cost of a test (CHF180) will be reimbursed by basic health insurance. 

The authorities advise everyone to continue to observe the applicable rules on hygiene and social distancingExternal link in Switzerland. At public establishments you must follow the rules set out in the applicable set of precautionary measures. This information will be provided on the premises.

What’s the situation for Swiss citizens living abroad?

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Under the Swiss Abroad Act, External linkSwiss nationals living abroad cannot claim the right to an organised departure from a crisis area. 

At the start of the pandemic, the government advised Swiss travellers who are only temporarily overseas to return to the country as soon as possible. It urged tourists to register with a special travel appExternal link and provided chartered flights to repatriate stranded citizens. The result was the biggest-ever repatriation operation of Swiss nationals. 

All Swiss representations abroad remain accessible to Swiss citizens, and its helpline of the ministry is operationalExternal link

Where can I find further information on the implications of Covid-19?

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swissinfo.ch is keeping this story updated regularly with numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, as well as any new significant measures taken by the cantonal and federal authorities.

Unfortunately, we cannot research and answer individual questions. Please check the following official federal websites for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Infoline for people travelling to Switzerland: +41 58 464 44 88 (6am–11pm)

The State Secretariat for MigrationExternal link: updated information on the situation at Swiss borders, with a helpline to answer questions about reasons for the refusal of entry into Switzerland and exceptions.

The Swiss foreign ministryExternal link: information in French, German and Italian about the situation regarding foreign travel and the steps to be followed by Swiss citizens going abroad. 

The Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH)External link: live updates of the national situation, as well as recommendations, public safety measures, and details of upcoming announcements.

The World Health Organization (WHO)External link: information on the origins and nature of Covid-19, as well as the global situation and travel advice.

Johns Hopkins UniversityExternal link: a global map that tracks the number of cases and fatalities by country.

Follow SWI swissinfo.ch hereExternal link, on FacebookExternal link, and on TwitterExternal link for timely updates on the situation in Switzerland.

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