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Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said on October 20 that the Covid certificate requirement and other restrictions will remain in place given the epidemiological situation, which has worsened in the last few days. Keystone / Ennio Leanza

The coronavirus situation continues to improve in Switzerland. But the authorities fear that like last year the cold weather could result in new Covid infections. A large vaccination push has been launched.

This content was published on October 22, 2021 - 08:03
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  • Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said on October 20 that the Covid certificate requirement and other restrictions will remain in place given the epidemiological situation, which has worsened in the last few days. He warned that there are "still dark clouds on the horizon" and that there are concerns that infections could increase as people return from October holidays and the cold season approaches.
  • From October 11, coronavirus testing for most asymptomatic people is no longer free. Exceptions exist: people with Covid symptoms, the under-16s, people waiting for a second Covid jab and visitors to hospitals and old people’s homes.  
  • Around 62% of the population are fully vaccinated against Covid. A vaccination campaign targeting young people has been launched on social media. The government is also investing CHF150 million ($161 million) to try and convince the vaccine-hesitant. The plan includes a nationwide “vaccination week” in early November, 170 new “vaccination buses” and 1,700 advisors to speak with people who have concerns. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are being used. The government has also signed a contract with the Janssen firm, part of the Johnson & Johnson group, for 150,000 doses of its non-mRNA vaccine. Switzerland has not approved the use of third or so-called booster shots.
  • Since early September the number of new infections has slowly fallen. On October 14, the seven-day average of new daily infections was down to 888 but increased to 965 on October 20. Most new infections have been recorded among those aged 10-19. 
  • From September 20, anyone over 16 entering Switzerland who has not been vaccinated against or recovered from the virus must provide a negative Covid test result, then another negative test 4-7 days after entry into the country, the government said on September 17
  • From September 13, anyone aged 16 and over must show the Covid certificate to access indoor spaces like restaurants, bars and museums. A Covid certificate is available to anyone who has been vaccinated with certain vaccinesExternal link, has tested negative for Covid or recovered from Covid with proof of a positive infection for 365 days. The EU, however, only recognises recovery certificates for 180 days. The government is discussing whether to extend the certificate to people who can provide evidence of a positive antibody test.
  • Protests by groups opposed to the Covid certificate, as well the government's Covid policy in general, have been frequent: in Bern, around a dozen (mostly unauthorised) protests have taken place each Thursday evening since September, leading to strong police reactions.
  • More than 10,700 people have died in connection with Covid-19 in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.
  • The complete updated data on the pandemic can be found in our article Coronavirus: the latest numbers or in the article below.
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What’s the current situation?

From February to April 2021, infection rates rose with the emergence of new virus variants. The new caseload then stabilised and slowed, and daily new cases fell to below 1,000 for the first time since October 2020. This downward trend continued until the end of June, with average new daily infections below 200. However, from late June the number of new reported infections started rising again, driven by the rapid spread of the Delta variant. From mid-August the number of new cases leveled off at around 2,500 a day. They have since dropped to around half this. The authorities fear that like last year the cold weather could result in new Covid infections. A large vaccination push has been launched.

The first cantonal vaccinations began in late December 2020. Since January 4, the government has been rolling out its official campaignExternal link, and has set a target of inoculating six million people (or 70% of the population) by summer. Vaccination is optional in Switzerland. The plan involves administering up to 70,000 jabs daily.

As of June, most high-risk people had been vaccinated, and many cantons had opened up vaccinations for the rest of the adult population. The Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH) has also recommended that 12-15-year-olds get vaccinated.

Authorities have ordered some 36 million vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Curevac and Novavax for the population of 8.6 million people. So far, two have been approved and rolled out: Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, both of which have also been approved for use on teenagers aged 12 and older. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine has also been approved, and 150,000 doses ordered.

On August 25, the government announced it signed another deal with Pfizer/BioNtech to supply vaccines for the next two years. In October a large vaccination drive was launched to boost Switzerland's flagging vaccination rate and to try to convince the vaccine-hesitant.

Authorities continue to advise all to continue to observe the applicable rules on hygiene and social distancingExternal link.

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Latest measures

From September 20, anyone over 16 entering Switzerland who has not been vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from the virus must provide a negative Covid test result, then another negative test 4-7 days after entry into the country, the government said on September 17

From September 13, if you want to access indoor public spaces like restaurants, bars, museums or fitness centres you have to show a Covid certificate. It is set to last until the end of January 2022. The government introduced these recent measures to quash a fourth wave of infections that is putting pressure on hospitals.

As of June 26, mask-wearing is no longer required outside; dance clubs and waterparks are open; and large events of over 10,000 people can take place provided attendees show a Covid certificate, proving they have either received a vaccine, recently tested negative, or have recovered from a Covid infection.

This followed a prior announcement on May 26 that allowed restaurants to open indoor and outdoor seating among other easings. Working from home was downgraded from a requirement to a recommendation.

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 or attending large private gatherings, can be fined from CHF50-CHF200.  

FOPH

Masks and testing

Everyone aged 12 or older travelling on trains, trams, buses, mountain railways, cable cars and ships must wear face masks. Federal Railways conductors can ask anyone not wearing a mask to leave the train; anyone refusing will be fined. Passengers on planes must also mask up.

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.

Swiss laboratories have been developing tests to pinpoint the Delta variant first found in India.

The government has been covering the costs of rapid Covid tests with or without symptoms. However, from October 11, coronavirus testing for most asymptomatic people is no longer free. Exceptions exist, including for the under-16s, people waiting for a second Covid jab and visitors to hospitals and old people’s homes.  

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Financial consequences

The government has set aside more than CHF65 billion ($70.6 billion) to support the economy, as a large part of activity in the country came to a standstill in 2020-2021. Some CHF40 billion was made available in emergency loans for struggling companies. The government has also presented a plan to offer additional loans totalling up to CHF154 million for start-ups.

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 also threw 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.

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. Around CHF1.6 billion in such hardship loans had been paid out to almost 20,000 companies by the beginning of April, according to the economics ministry. Partial unemployment claims have increased sharply due to the pandemic and are expected to continue to rise.

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. 

Following concerns voiced by the sports sector, the government also allocated 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.

Travel to and from Switzerland 

Switzerland eased some travel restrictions ahead of the summer holiday season. However, following the emergence of a fourth wave it has decided to tighten entry requirements.

From Monday September 20, travellers aged over 16 entering Switzerland who have not been vaccinated or have not recovered from Covid-19 have to present a negative test result (PCR or antigen), irrespective of where they are travelling from or by which means of transport they are entering the country. They will then have to be tested again after four to seven days. The result of the second test must be sent to the relevant cantonal office.

Testing is not required for vaccinated or recovered travellers who can present a Covid certificate or other valid proof of vaccination or recovery. All travellers, whether vaccinated, recovered or with a negative test, will also be required to fill out an online form (Passenger Locator Form, SwissPLFExternal link).

The test and entry form requirements do not apply to travellers in transit through Switzerland without stopping, drivers who transport people or goods professionally, and cross-border commuters or people entering from border areas. 

From September 20, anyone who has been vaccinated abroad with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and who is resident in or travelling to Switzerland will be able to obtain a Swiss Covid certificateExternal link.

Meanwhile, existing rules for entering Switzerland remain unchanged. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) continues to operate a list of Covid high-risk countriesExternal link, which is used to determine who may enter Switzerland. Any non-Schengen state not on this list is still considered a risk country for which restrictions on entry to Switzerland apply to unvaccinated third-country nationals. Check the SEM websiteExternal link for details about entering Switzerland.

Swiss travellers planning to go abroad are advised to check entry conditions in the destination country or region. The foreign ministry has guidelines around travelling abroad during the pandemic, available hereExternal link in German, French, and Italian.

What’s the situation for Swiss citizens living abroad?

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

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?

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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