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Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Booster shots for people 65 and over, as well as for vulnerable groups such as residents of care homes, are now underway. Michael Buholzer/Keystone

The coronavirus situation has worsened in the last few weeks as the vaccination rate stagnates and the cold weather brings more people indoors. 

This content was published on November 29, 2021 - 11:29
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  • The first probable case of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been detected in Switzerland, the government said on November 28External link. The country has tightened entry restrictions to check its spread imposing a flight banExternal link on direct flights from southern African countries. It has also imposed a negative test when boarding a fight and quarantine for ten days for travellers from other countriesExternal link that had seen cases of the new Omicron variant. These included Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, Denmark, Britain, the Czech Republic and Israel.
  • The number of new Covid infections in Switzerland has risen significantly since mid-October. More than 8,000 new infections within 24 hours were reported over the past few days. The 10-19 age group are most affected by the new rise. The situation varies across the country however; eastern and central Switzerland, which have the lowest vaccination rates, are worst affected. Hospital admissions are rising and are expected to double in the next two weeks.
  • The government says the situation is “critical”, but has decided that no additional national measures are needed to curb the surge. Interior Minister Alain Berset said on November 24 that intensive care units could still cope. But it has asked the 26 cantons to take whatever measures they deem necessary.
  • Around 65% of the total population are fully vaccinated against Covid. Swiss health officials have recommended an extension of booster jabs, which started with the most vulnerable, to anyone aged over 16.
  • More than 10,900 people have died in connection with Covid-19 in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.
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What’s the situation?

The number of new coronavirus infections has been on the rise since mid-October - a fifth wave since the start of the pandemic - as people return from fall holidays and the colder weather brings more people inside. 

As of late November, around 65% of the population were fully vaccinated. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has recommended children as young as 12 get vaccinated.

On October 26 the medicines regulator authorised booster shots for vulnerable groups and people over 65. On November 23 health officials recommended an extension of booster jabs, which started with the most vulnerable, to anyone aged over 16.

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, 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. In August the government signed another deal with Pfizer/BioNtech to supply vaccines for the next two years.

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

Ahead of the nationwide vote on the Covid-19 law on November 28, protests by critics of the Covid certificate, as well the government's Covid policy in general, have been frequent, especially in Bern.

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Latest measures

From October 11, coronavirus testing for most asymptomatic people has no longer been free of charge. Exceptions exist: people with Covid symptoms, under-16-year-olds, people waiting for a second Covid jab and visitors to hospitals and old people’s homes.  

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 (see graphic below). 

Federal Council

From September 13, anyone aged 16 and over must show the Covid certificate to access indoor spaces like restaurants, bars and museums (see graphic below). A Covid certificate is available to anyone who has been vaccinated with certain vaccinesExternal link, has tested negative for or recovered from Covid. The government has agreed to extend the certificate to people who can provide evidence of a positive antibody test.

FOPH

Since June, mask-wearing has no longer been 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 in May that allowed restaurants to open indoor and outdoor seating among other easings. Working from home was downgraded from a requirement to a recommendation.

Anyone found 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.  

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.

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 

From November 26, Switzerland imposed a flight ban on southern African countries and quarantine restrictions for travellers from other countries that had seen cases of the new Omicron variant.

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 (see graphic below). 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.

Federal Council

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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