Swiss hackathon to battle coronavirus ‘a mind-blowing success’

More than 5,000 people took part over the weekend in a virtual "hackathon" in Switzerland to generate fresh ideas for how to deal with and combat COVID-19, organisers said Monday.

Swiss hackathon to battle coronavirus 'a mind-blowing success'
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The event, backed by Swiss authorities, kicked off on Friday evening and ran through the weekend, and on Monday evening the organisers announced the 42 best projects.

A total of 4,610 people signed up and, with the support of some 500 mentors, were separated into hundreds of teams tasked with tackling more than 190 different challenges, including generating ideas on how better to protect those most vulnerable to the new coronavirus, data against fake news and the impact of quarantine on mental health.

The 48-hour event also including morning yoga sessions, online concerts and a dance party. “It has been a mind-blowing success,” Christoph Birkholz, the event's co-initiator, told AFP.

“It is beyond words.”

He said the event was inspired by large-scale recent hackathons in Germany, Estonia and Poland, but that the Swiss event was aimed to appeal to non-techies, who made up a majority of participants.

Among the participants was Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset, the head of the Swiss parliament along with 25 other parliamentarians, as well as representatives from a broad range of professions, including medicine, education and science.

The large numbers of people joining the event, using online tools that many were not familiar with, had posed some challenges, Birkholz said, adding, though, that it was also a great opportunity.

“Many of the participants have never used the Slack tool. Many didn't know what Zoom is. So I think that is an intended side effect, a sort of experience learning of the tools that everyone currently needs,” he said.

The projects highlighted included a long line of apps, including one to help patients write their advanced health directives, a real-time tracking app of bed availability at all Swiss hospitals, and a mobile education app to help teachers keep track of their remote-learning students' progress.

But they also included more analogue projects, including a possible book project reflecting on Switzerland's post-COVID-19 future.

Each of the highlighted projects will each receive 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,020, 950 euros) in funding, with the possibility to apply for additional funding from a pool of 250,000 francs, the organisers said.

“This is not the end of a process,” Birkholz said. “I hope it is just the beginning.”

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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