Switzerland bans gatherings of more than five people but curfew avoided

The Swiss government further tightened measures Friday against COVID-19, but said it would not follow other countries in ordering full confinement, so as not to engage in such a "political show".

Switzerland bans gatherings of more than five people but curfew avoided
The Swiss government announces new coronavirus measures. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The government announced it would ban all gatherings of more than five people, and that anyone standing closer than two metres to others risked a fine.

Bans will be enforced by a CHF100 fine. 

And it said that building sites that did not respect proper distancing and sanitary conditions would be shut down.

But it did not follow in the footsteps of a number of neighbouring countries, including hard-hit Italy, who have ordered their entire populations to remain at home with few exceptions.

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Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters the government was concerned that putting in place too strict restrictions would push people to rebel.

“Our situation is extremely close” to that in countries with full confinement, he said, adding, though, that the Swiss economy would continue to function partially and people would have some freedom of movement.

“We do not want to engage in a political show,” he said, pointing out that citizens in some countries where confinement is the rule are refusing to get in line.

“What counts is not the 15 or 20 seconds when you make the announcement. What counts from now is how the population adheres to these measures for several weeks to come.

“Slowing the virus spread cannot work if the entire population does not adhere to the measures decided,” he said.

“We are really calling on everyone to take responsibility.”

The announcement came as Switzerland saw its number of cases soar by nearly 1,000 in 24 hours to over 4,800 cases, including 43 deaths.

Worldwide, the pandemic has killed more than 10,000 people, and nearly 250,000 have become infected with the virus since it first emerged in China last December.

The Swiss government has already ordered the closure of schools and all places of leisure, including restaurants, bars and non-food shops, but said Friday more was needed to ensure people observe strict social distancing to halt the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.

“The situation is serious. The coming days will be difficult,” Berset said.

Switzerland on Friday also boosted the amount of money made available to buffer the harsh blow to its economy by an additional 32 billion Swiss francs, bringing the total to 42 billion francs ($42.8 billion, 39.9 billion euros).

Swiss Economic Affairs Minister Guy Parmelin warned that the Swiss “economy is currently functioning at around 80 percent of its capacity.”

“We have to do everything possible to maintain a sufficient level of activity,” he said.

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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