Coronavirus: The nightly message of hope lighting up Switzerland’s Matterhorn

As the world reels from the coronavirus crisis, a beam of light is illuminating Switzerland's Matterhorn mountain with a message of hope for a time of darkness.

Coronavirus: The nightly message of hope lighting up Switzerland's Matterhorn

Every night from sunset, the 4,478-metre (14,692-foot) high national symbol is splashed with words and images to inspire solidarity as people face up to the alarming spread of the deadly pandemic.

The light projections, nearly 800 metres high, have been beamed for more than a week from four kilometres away onto the north and east faces of the mountain, which straddles Switzerland's southeastern border with Italy.

“We started with a Swiss flag, because it speaks to the mountain and our nation,” said light artist Gerry Hofstetter, known for transforming buildings around the world with his displays. 

The words “hope”, “solidarity” and “stay home” have since been projected onto the peak, along with a giant red heart on a white background — in the Swiss national colours.

The flags of Switzerland, Italy and the Swiss region of Ticino were also beamed onto the mountain on Wednesday night.



The southern Ticino canton, which borders stricken northern Italy, has been the hardest-hit in Switzerland.

The flags of other badly-affected nations will be projected onto the mountain in the coming days and weeks. The projections can be seen on live high-definition webcams. 

'Light is hope' 

Dominating the skyline, Hofstetter said the Matterhorn stands out like a lighthouse, which triggered the idea of beaming out messages. “Light is hope. So if you do a message with light in such a situation as we are in now, you give that hope — especially with this iconic, standalone, pyramid-shaped, incredibly strong mountain,” he said.

“The Matterhorn was here before mankind was.

“You can go back in history, two, three or four thousand years; when they had disease, it was art that brought people together for hope and looking for a brighter future once again. Only art can do this.”



The Matterhorn overlooks the ski resort of Zermatt deep down in the valley below. The normally-bustling town is devoid of tourists, hotels and holiday homes largely empty.

The starry night is eerily quiet. Switzerland, which has registered more than 18,000 cases and 430 deaths from COVID-19, has shut schools, bars, restaurants and non-food shops in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

Around the world, nearly a million people are known to have been infected, while nearly 50,000 lives have been lost in the pandemic.

“We want to show solidarity,” said Daniel Luggen, director of the Zermatt tourist office.

“We are fortunate here to live in a very beautiful area and we also want to share it with the world, to give people courage to help them to overcome this difficult period,” he told AFP. 



'Honest' toil

Hofstetter, 58, refuses to reveal where he is projecting from, but says he and an assistant are hunkered down at a camp high in the mountains above Zermatt, having set out with enough food to last for a month.

Speaking to AFP by telephone, he said the messages would be meaningless if he was not making sacrifices of his own to project them.

Every other day, he walks three hours through the snow to haul up 45 litres of water for drinking, washing and cleaning, with temperatures at times plunging to minus 22 degrees Celsius (minus eight Fahrenheit).

“We are really making an effort,” he said, “through living here and trying to survive — this message is honest.”

The light projections are due to last until April 19, when Switzerland's emergency measures are set to expire. However, if they are extended, there is no going home for Hofstetter.

“Imagine we give out such a strong sign of hope, and it's prolonged, and on the 19th we switch off. That will give a sign that even the Matterhorn doesn't believe in hope anymore,” 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