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HEALTH

What is Switzerland doing to prevent coronavirus spreading from Italy?

The southern Swiss canton of Ticino has put in place extensive new measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, although calls to close the border with Italy have been dismissed as ineffective.

What is Switzerland doing to prevent coronavirus spreading from Italy?
Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

The Italian-speaking canton, which borders the Italian region of Lombardy which is considered the ‘epicentre’ of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, has stepped up its measures to halt the spread of the virus. 

UPDATE: Seventh coronavirus patient dies in Italy as authorities urge calm

Seven people in Italy have died as a result of the virus. Hundreds have been infected, almost all of which are in the two northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto. 

‘Hour by hour’

A spokesman for the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health told local media that they were concerned about the outbreak in neighbouring Italy, saying the spread of the virus “must now be brought under control by all means”. 

READ: Coronavirus in Italy: Should Switzerland close its southern border?

The Swiss Health Minister said on Tuesday “we are monitoring the situation hour by hour and are well prepared to protect the population”. 

The spokesman said the situation in Italy was being monitored and the planned steps have been in development for several weeks.

As yet, there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Ticino despite more than 300 people examined.  

Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Isolation in hospitals all across Ticino

Hospitals in Ticino are isolating all patients who have shown signs of breathing difficulties or other flu-like symptoms. 

Unlike in previous weeks, this is now being done in all cases – even without patients having taken a trip to China or having had contact with someone infected with the virus in the previous fortnight. 

From Tuesday onwards, patients with suspicious symptoms will be tested and will have their results available within two hours. 

Hotline set up

A hotline has been set up in all national languages to deal with the virus. 

READ: Switzerland sets up coronavirus hotline

Information on the hotline can be found here

As reported in the Swiss daily 20 Minutes, the hotline received 270 reports on Sunday, in addition to 170 on Saturday. 

Heightened awareness

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health has also launched an information to campaign to allay fears about the virus – as well as to let people know how they should deal with symptoms and prevent the spread. 

Flyers and posters will be produced and placed at airports, train stations and other locations at borders. Public transport staff will be given specific instructions. 

While these measures will apply in Ticino, they’re also set for implementation in Valais and Grisons, which also border Italy. 

Border controls ‘ineffective’ 

The populist Swiss People's Party has called for greater restrictions on border crossings, although these calls have been rejected. 

Although Austria has stopped all trains running across its border with Italy, Switzerland has declined to put in place similar restrictions saying they are ineffective. 

The SBB said that while no special measures have been taken as yet, “we are in close contact with the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and we are following its recommendations”. 

Buses and other traffic have also not been restricted. School trips to Italy in the canton of Vaud have however been postponed. 

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HEALTH

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad
 

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