How coronavirus has hit life in Switzerland as car shows and football matches are cancelled

The Swiss government has announced a raft of measures aimed at halting the spread of coronavirus that has meant scores of events being cancelled.

How coronavirus has hit life in Switzerland as car shows and football matches are cancelled
Geneva has cancelled its international car show amid coronavirus fears. Photo: AFP

Switzerland has cancelled football matches, carnival celebrations, concerts and the Geneva International Motor Show in a drastic bid to stem the country's new coronavirus outbreak in its  early stages.

Switzerland on Friday cancelled football matches, carnival celebrations, concerts and the Geneva International Motor Show in a drastic bid to stem the country's new coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.

The government announced it was suspending all public and private events  with more than 1,000 participants until at least March 15th, invoking emergency  powers to do so.

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Baselworld, one of the world's biggest watch and jewellery fairs, is also cancelled. Photo: AFP

The ban will even include a Catholic mass due to be held for the first time  in 500 years on Saturday at the Geneva cathedral – a bastion of the Protestant Reformation.

In Zurich, concerts by US shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper and guitarist Carlos Santana also had to be cancelled.

The organisers of Baselworld, one of the world's biggest watch fairs, said on Friday they would cancel the 2020 event.

“For health safety reasons and in accordance with the precautionary principle following the bans of large-scale public and private events, … Baselworld announces that it has taken the decision to postpone the show,” it said in a statement.

Popular carnival feasts in Basel and the town of Payerne in western  Switzerland will also not go ahead.

“Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The  ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March,” the government said in a statement, after the country registered 15 cases.

Hundreds of thousands of people typically attend the Geneva auto show.

The government said that even for gatherings of fewer than 1,000 people “event organisers must carry out a risk assessment in conjunction with the  competent cantonal authorities to decide whether or not the event can be held”.

'Tremendous loss'

The annual Geneva motor show, a major item on the global auto industry  calendar, had been due to start on March 5 and organisers said that stands were nearly completed even though most of the cars had still not arrived.

The show usually premieres more than 100 new models and some 160 exhibitors had planned to attend this year.

“We regret this situation, but the health of all participants is our and  our exhibitors' top priority,” said Maurice Turrettini, Chairman of the  Foundation Board.

“This is a case of force majeure and a tremendous loss for the  manufacturers who have invested massively in their presence in Geneva. 

However, we are convinced that they will understand this decision,” he said.

There had been questions for weeks about whether the auto show would go  ahead and Turrettini told reporters at a press conference that he was  “relieved” that the government's decision had made the situation clear.

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But Olivier Rihs, director of the auto show, said losses for organisers and exhibitors would be “in the millions”.

While visitors would get tickets reimbursed, he said exhibitors would not be refunded because the cancellation was an exceptional event caused by the government decision.

The government conceded in its statement that the ban would “have a  significant impact on public life in Switzerland” but added that “it should  prevent or delay the spread of the disease, thus reducing its momentum”.

The federal government said the scale of the outbreak allowed it to invoke  special powers to order measures that are normally the responsibility of  Switzerland's cantons.

Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters that similar measures had  proved “effective” in other countries.

At a press conference, he said the number of cases in Switzerland was “not  a surprise for us”, adding: “We have to expect an increase in cases in the next few days”.

Switzerland's parliament also announced containment measures on Friday, cancelling public tours and banning MPs from receiving visitors until further notice.

Football matches cancelled 

The ban will also affect the Swiss sporting world.

The Swiss Football League said it was cancelling all football matches over the weekend and warned some would have to be held in empty stadiums at a later date.

Switzerland's hockey league said games planned in the coming days would be held without the public and security guards would be posted outside stadiums to enforce the ban.

The United Nations, which has its second biggest office after New York in Geneva was also “assessing the situation”, according to spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci.

“Obviously we will follow the host-country position,” she said, adding that the ban could put in doubt the Human Rights Council which began this week and is due to last until March 20.

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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