Switzerland may ease coronavirus restrictions in April

Emergency Swiss measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic will be extended by a week to April 26, but could be eased before May, President Simonetta Sommaruga announced Wednesday.

Switzerland may ease coronavirus restrictions in April
Photo: AFP

After ordering the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and shops other than food stores and pharmacies, the Swiss government on March 21 banned gatherings of more than five people.

These measures “are extended until April 26”, and “the first relaxations should be able to occur before the end of April,” Sommaruga told a press conference in Bern.

The government has instructed the health and economy ministries to come up with plans for “how this easing can be done, step by step”, the president said.

The plans are to be unveiled on April 16.

Health Minister Alain Berset told media that adherence to physical distancing and hygiene measures would nonetheless “remain very important and for a long time”.

The gradual easing of restrictions would depend on the number of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as the situation around the world, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 80,000 people — including more than 58,000 in Europe — since it emerged in China in December, while more than 1.4 million people have tested positive for the virus.

In Switzerland, more than 22,000 people have tested positive and more than 700 have died since the first case was detected on February 24 in the Ticino region, which borders hard-hit northern Italy.

“These figures continue to increase — but less quickly,” said Berset, noting that the numbers requiring hospital treatment were beginning to stabilise.

“A relaxation is within sight,” he said.

“We can say that, finally, we are beginning to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Measures taken by the Swiss authorities have frozen economic activity, prompting some to demand greater flexibility.

Economy Minister Guy Parmelin told the news conference: “We must deal with a deep crisis that will last a long time.”

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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