Interior Minister pushes for corona school testing

Pupil undergoing a salvia test earlier this year in Chiasso Keystone / Davide Agosta

The Swiss interior minister Alain Berset has called for regular mass Covid testing in schools. The coronavirus situation is more serious than thought, he said.

This content was published on August 28, 2021 - 11:24

Speaking during a special debate on Swiss public television (SRF)’s Arena programme on Friday evening, Berset said that the government had recommended that schools continue with mass testing during the new school term to control virus outbreaks. But, he added, it was up to the cantons to implement it.

In Switzerland, education matters - and associated coronavirus measures - are the responsibility of the cantons.

If the virus circulates less, it will also circulate less for children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccination, Berset underlined.

The cantons have now realised that the coronavirus situation is more serious than anticipated. “More must be done in autumn,” Berset said. “The government is paying for it all. It’s just a question of organisation in schools.”

Differing rules

The rules for testing – mostly saliva tests - differ from canton to canton and are not implemented everywhere. For example, in canton Zurich mass tests are “highly recommended” but not obligatory and in Jura and Bern, for example, they are only being used for three weeks after term begins.

The same goes for mask wearing – this also varies among the cantons. Earlier this week  canton Schaffhausen re-introduced masks for older pupils, in response to a rise in positive tests among pupils. Before the summer holidays, there were generally 1-2 positive pool tests in schools in the canton, but last week it was 42, officials said. Other cantons, like Aargau and Basel City, have also reported a higher number of school cases from mass testing after the holidays.

Top cantonal health officials are already discussing whether to re-introduce compulsory mask wearing for older pupils, Lukas Engelberger, the president of the Conference of Cantonal Health Directors, said earlier this week.

Health measures like social distancing, handwashing and ventilating remain in place everywhere for the new school term. Berset said it was down to schools to decide if they wanted to install air filters and air quality machines as part of corona prevention measures.

Swiss schools have generally remained open during the pandemic, apart from in spring 2020 when there was a nationwide school closures. 

Rising cases in Switzerland

Since the end of June the number of new reported coronavirus infections has been rising in Switzerland. The growth is largely due to the highly infectious Delta variant affecting unvaccinated people, mainly in the 10-29 age group. On Friday, there were 2,763 new infections.

Teachers have already called for mass testing to continue in schools. There have also been calls among parents and experts for more protection measures. The #ProtectTheKids parent initiative has, for example, launched a petitionExternal link aimed at cantonal education directors, calling for “effective measures like CO2 sensors, air filters, obligatory mask wearing, and mass testing with uniform quarantine rules” for schools.

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