Swiss foreign minister: European cooperation will stop coronavirus not closed borders

Speaking at a European summit on coronavirus on Tuesday in Paris, Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis reiterated his commitment to keeping the country’s internal and external borders open, while also calling for more European cooperation to tackle the outbreak.

Swiss foreign minister: European cooperation will stop coronavirus not closed borders

Note: This story is now out of date, with the Swiss authorities deciding on Wednesday to partially close the border. For updated information, please click here

As reported in Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Cassis said Switzerland’s external borders – including that with heavily impacted Italy – would remain open for the time being. 

Neighbouring Austria on Tuesday closed its border to Italy and is set to refuse any entrants from the country. Italy has also put in place extensive restrictions on internal travel in the country. 

READ: Coronavirus cases near 500 as third patient dies

Internal border closures were also not being considered in Switzerland, Cassis said. 

Despite reports throughout the country that border closures were being considered, a spokesperson for the Federal Council said such rumours were false. 



Coronavirus, referenda on the agenda

Cassis met with French foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to speak about the virus. 

“Free movement within the Schengen area and the next vote on May 17 were naturally part of the subjects raised,” he said. 

Switzerland is set to go to the polls on May 17th to vote on whether to restrict freedom of movement for EU citizens. 

EU migration to affordable housing: All you need to know about Switzerland's crucial spring referendums 

Cassis said border closures were not being considered as they were not effective – and that cooperation was the best protection. 

“We must reiterate to our fellow citizens that at this epidemiological stage, when the virus is circulating all over Europe, the closing of borders is no longer taken into consideration,” he said. 

“Everyone is affected. What matters is first of all coordination between the health services of European countries.

“The coronavirus crisis requires us to exchange as much information as possible, both on the progression of the epidemic and on the state of stocks for protective equipment.”

Cross-border staff a major consideration

As has been reported extensively by The Local Switzerland this week, cross-border workers are of crucial economic importance in Italy – especially in the southern canton of Ticino. 

Approximately 70,000 workers commute to Ticino from Italy daily, an estimated 4,000 of which work in the medical sector. 

Cassis addressed this, saying “the health reality is that we are interdependent on the European continent. Our neighbours know, for example, how much the Swiss healthcare system depends on border staff. ”

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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