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Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Gaetan Bally/Keystone

New restrictions have been introduced in Switzerland as cases soar and pressure grows on hospitals amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

This content was published on January 25, 2022 - 08:51
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  • Switzerland will extend until the end of February coronavirus quarantine and work-from-home rules and plans to keep until the end of March other curbs on public life it tightened last month, the government announcedExternal link on January 19. 
  • From January 22, people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 no longer need to present a negative PCR or rapid antigen test before entering Switzerland. People who are not vaccinated or who have not recovered will still need to take a test to enter the country. However, travellers will no longer need to take a second test taken four to seven days after entering the country.
  • Switzerland is currently undergoing a fifth wave of the pandemic, with the number of new daily coronavirus infections reaching unprecedented highs due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant: 37,992 new cases were reported on January 21 for the previous 24-hour period. Hospital admissions are stable. A total of 240 Covid-19 patients are in intensive care.
  • Virginie Masserey of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said on Tuesday that the Omicron wave, responsible for 90% of new infections in Switzerland, had stagnated at a high level. New infections are mainly affecting young people and workers. Canton Ticino and Lake Geneva are currently the worst-affected regions. Masserey said the number of cases would probably increase but more slowly.
  • On January 12External link, to prevent the economy falling victim to staff shortages, the government decided to shorten the quarantine and isolation periods to five days, with only those people in close contact with an infected person subject to the rules.
  • Since December 20External link, only people who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 are able to go inside restaurants, cultural, sporting and leisure venues and attend indoor events (the so-called "2G rule"). A requirement to work from home has also been reintroduced. Private gatherings are limited to ten people if there is one person from age 16 present who is unvaccinated or has not recovered from Covid-19.
  • Swiss health officials have recommended an extension of booster jabs, which started with the most vulnerable, to anyone aged 12 or over, preferably with the mRNA Pfizer/Biontech vaccine. Around 68% of the population has received two doses of vaccine. Some three million people have received a booster shot.
  • More than 12,100 people have died in connection with Covid-19 in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.
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Latest measures

Since December 20External link, only people who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 are able to go inside restaurants, cultural, sporting and leisure venues and attend indoor events (the "2G rule").

Masks must also be worn in these settings and food and drink can only be consumed when seated. If masks cannot be worn or it is not possible to eat and drink while seated (bars and discos), admission is limited to vaccinated and recovered people who can also show a negative test result (2G+). But people who have been fully vaccinated, or received a booster, or who have recovered from the virus in the past four months will not have to take a further test.

Federal Council

A requirement to work from home has also been reintroduced. Private gatherings are limited to ten people if there is one person from age 16 present who is unvaccinated or has not recovered from Covid-19. The government extended these measures on January 19, 2022 (see graphic for details).

What’s the situation?

The number of new coronavirus infections has been on the rise since mid-October as the colder weather has brought more people inside. Switzerland has also been affected by a surge in cases since the emergence of the Omicron variant first detected in South Africa and Botswana.

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

A second nationwide vote on the Covid-19 law on November 28 saw broad support.

Vaccination and treatment

So far, three 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. The single-dose Janssen vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson is also available.

Authorities have ordered some 36 million vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Curevac and Novavax for the population of 8.6 million people. In August the government signed another deal with Pfizer/BioNTech to supply vaccines for the next two years.

The Swiss health authorities have recommended extending anti-Covid vaccinations to children aged between five and 11. This should be introduced from January, officials say. 

The medicines regulator first authorised booster shots for vulnerable groups and people over 65 but has since extended boosters to anyone aged over 16. Booster shots from all three approved vaccines have also been authorised by Swissmedic as of December 27.

Swissmedic also announced on December 27 that it has given the green light to the monoclonal antibody cocktail Ronapreve developed by Roche and Regeneron for use in the treatment and prevention of Covid-19. The drug was already being used in the country as an exception in the Covid-19 law that allow drugs to go on the market while the approval application is being reviewed. The monoclonal drug sotrovimab has not been approved but is also being used as its application is reviewed. The government increased its reserves of both drugs at the end of 2021.

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Masks and testing

Masks are compulsory at events where certificates are required.

Anyone aged 12 or older travelling on trains, trams, buses, mountain railways, cable cars and ships must wear face masks. 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.

On December 17, the government said it would again cover the costs of certain Covid-19 tests leading to a Covid certificate, as approved by parliament. Rapid antigen tests and saliva PCR pool tests (mass testing such as used in schools) will be covered. Self-tests, individual PCR tests and antibody tests won't be (although individual PCR tests will continue to be free of charge for those with symptoms, are close contacts or were part of a positive test pool). The new rules governing test costs will apply from Saturday, December 18.

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Travel to and from Switzerland 

Check on the official government TravelcheckExternal link or State Secretariat for MigrationExternal link websites to see if you are allowed to enter Switzerland.

The rules for entering Switzerland have been updatedExternal link. From January 22, people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 no longer need to present a negative PCR or rapid antigen test before entering Switzerland. People who are not vaccinated or who have not recovered will still need to take a test to enter the country. However, travelers will no longer need to take a second test taken four to seven days after entering the country.

An electronic Passenger Locator FormExternal link must be completed by those only travelling to Switzerland by plane or on a long-distance bus service.

Federal Council

The list of countries with a variant of concernExternal link determines whether a person has to go into quarantine after entering Switzerland (the list is currently empty). Anyone who has been in a country with a variant of concern in the ten days prior to entering Switzerland must go into quarantine. This also applies to people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid. On December 6 the government lifted the automatic requirement for travellers to quarantine if they arrive from countries with Omicron cases as the variant has already arrived in Switzerland.

The Federal Office of Public Health has detailed information on entering SwitzerlandExternal link.

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?

Anyone who has a Swiss passport or a valid Swiss residence permit can enter Switzerland at any time.

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

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.

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

SWI 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 of 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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If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at english@swissinfo.ch.

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