What you need to know about Switzerland’s coronavirus testing regime

One of the major factors in tackling coronavirus is testing for the disease. Here’s what you need to know about testing for coronavirus in Switzerland.

What you need to know about Switzerland’s coronavirus testing regime

A common complaint from readers of The Local in Switzerland and abroad has been difficulties in accessing testing for coronavirus.

Due to the sheer scale of the coronavirus pandemic, medical authorities must make decisions on who they test – and who they don’t – with the most at-risk groups being prioritised. 

As Daniel Koch, a spokesman for the Federal Office of Public Health told the national broadcaster SRF: “We have to stick to the current test strategy because the supply of material is far from certain.”

EXPLAINED: Why does Switzerland have such a high rate of confirmed coronavirus cases per capita?

This can be difficult for people who feel they have similar symptoms and want the reassurance of a test, but are told that they are not in the at-risk priority group and should instead stay home. 

Here’s an overview of how testing for coronavirus takes place in Switzerland. 

Testing in Switzerland

Despite some complains surfacing about difficulty accessing tests in Switzerland, on a comparative basis the country ranks better than most for the number of coronavirus tests it carries out.

Switzerland currently ranks fourth in the world – and second in Europe – for the amount of tests that have been carried out on a per capita basis. 

Only the United Arab Emirates, Norway and South Korea have carried out more tests for the coronavirus when compared to population numbers. 

Who is tested in Switzerland?

Not everyone in Switzerland can be tested for the virus anytime they want. 

People who want to be tested must be showing symptoms of the virus – with the most common being shortness of breath, a dry cough and high fever – and be in a particular risk group in order to be tested. 

People considered to be at a greater risk of complications from the virus are people over 65 years of age, people with high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, diseases and therapies that weaken the immune system and cancer.

As with everything in Switzerland, the exact testing policy varies somewhat from canton to canton – with each medical centre having a degree of discretion as to who they test and who they send home. 

People exhibiting symptoms who are not in the risk category will occasionally be tested, however they are encouraged to stay home and let their immune system fight the illness in order to free up the available tests for the most at-risk populations. 

Medical staff at a hospital in Neuchatel. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

How can I get tested?

Zurich was the first canton where all doctors were equipped to test for the virus, although medical facilities in all cantons can now do so. 

Cantonal authorities have warned against going directly hospitals in search of a test, with all hospital visits – along with visits to nursing homes and disability facilities – banned due to fears about spreading the virus. 

Instead, the FOPH has also set up a multilingual hotline for questions about Covid-19 available in English, German, French and Italian.

The number, which operates 24 hours a day, is +41 58 463 00 00. People experiencing symptoms should call this number immediately in order to determine whether a test is necessary – and where it should take place. 

Each canton also has its own hotline number. 

How many people have been tested?

According to Patrick Mathys, head of crisis management at the Federal Office for Public Health, around 8,000 tests are now being conducted in Switzerland every day. That number was around 2,500 at the beginning of epidemic.

As at Thursday morning, March 26th, approximately 91,400 Swiss people have been tested. 

How many people have tested negative?

Of those tests, more than 79,000 have been negative for the virus, along with over 11,000 confirmed cases – meaning more than one in ten of those tested have been positive for the disease. 

Unlike other countries, Switzerland does not publish the amount of people who have recovered from the virus – which can make it appear that the country has more active cases than it actually does. 

When pressed on this at a media conference on March 24th, Mathys said the government was sticking to standardised practice for all statistics regarding illnesses

Mathys said “I keep wondering about this question”. “With flu, we don't ask ourselves this. It's basically simple: either you die from the coronavirus or you recover.”

How does Switzerland test for coronavirus?

As it stands, the vast majority of coronavirus tests are done at medical facilities in Switzerland.

In most cantons, members of the public who want to be tested and who fall into the required risk groups will need to call a cantonal hotline before being directed to a testing facility. 

While this will usually be a hospital or medical centre, drive-through testing has been rolled out in the canton of Lucerne as of March 24th. Those seeking a drive-through test will also need a referral. 

The central Swiss canton of Bern plans to follow suit in the coming days. 

Some cantons, such as Basel Country, have established mobile testing facilities that can visit nursing homes and other care facilities. 


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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