Swiss president: Older people won’t be confined indefinitely

The Federal Council announced that it would start lifting the coronavirus-related restrictions at the end of April. But while no details are available yet, Swiss authorities have hinted over the weekend at what may lie ahead after the lockdown.

Swiss president: Older people won’t be confined indefinitely
The Swiss president outlined some of the post-confinement measures. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

In an interview with the Sonntagsblick newspaper on Sunday, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga said that deconfinement will take place in stages and the exact steps now under discussion will be made public on April 16th.

Sommaruga did say that the Federal Council is not planning to keep older people – and those in high risk groups – confined for an indefinite period of time, as suggested by some.

Many business organisations have been urging the government to re-start the economy by deconfining young people while keeping people in at-risk groups under lockdown.

But Sommaruga said that keeping the vulnerable population in confinement for a long time is not realistic.

“It is impossible to completely isolate groups at risk because we are talking about a very large number of people,” the president noted.

“First, there are all those over the age of 65. Then there are those who suffer from a disease such as cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure.

“It is not possible to completely cut these groups off from the outside world”, she added.

Sommaruga also said that “there will be no deconfinement without protective measures”.

Among these measures would be the use of masks in certain circumstances, she said.

Even though Swiss authorities have insisted that masks don’t protect healthy people from being infected with Covid-19, “scientific knowledge about the virus has made enormous progress”, said Health Minister Alain Berset.

“I don't rule out the possibility that, when we relax the rules, we can recommend a mask in certain situations”, he added.

“The government is neither too cautious nor reckless in terms of the measures prescribed, but realistic,” Sommaruga pointed out.

READ MORE: EXPLAINER: Is it really the right time for Switzerland to be lifting restrictions? 

The restrictions were put into place on March 16th, when the government declared a state of emergency, closing all schools, most border crossings, shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities, and banned gatherings of more than five people.

The measures were supposed to stay in place until April 16th, but the government postponed them until April 26th.

Switzerland now has at least 25,449 cases of coronavirus and 1,115 deaths, according to Worldmeter. 

This means Switzerland still has one of the highest incidences of Covid-10 infections in international comparison.

However, the country has a relatively low death rate. According to data from the Johns Hopkins University in the US, 3.9 percent of coronavirus patients in Switzerland die from Covid-19, or 11 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

By way of comparison, 12.7 percent of people infected with the coronavirus in Italy have died so far, i.e. 30 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. In Spain, 10 percent of those infected died (33 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants).

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Hope as Switzerland records lowest number of new infections since mid-March

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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