Could at-home immunity tests end Switzerlands coronavirus lockdown?

A plan to produce at-home coronavirus immunity tests has been floated as a way to allow Switzerland to end its coronavirus lockdown.

Could at-home immunity tests end Switzerlands coronavirus lockdown?

Medical experts are however sceptical that the plan can work effectively.

As reported in Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes on Wednesday, the ‘Coronavirus Immunity Initiative’ hopes to produce immunity tests in bulk which can be distributed to people’s homes across Switzerland in May. 

UPDATE: What you need to know about the coronavirus crisis in Switzerland

Participants can take the tests – which according to the researchers have already been proven to be reliable – to determine if they have already contracted the virus and whether they can thereby re-enter society. 

The Initiative is made up of a broad group from the business, science, political and medical sectors. Health insurance companies Helsana and ÖKK have backed the measure, as have peak bodies like Santésuisse and a number of hospitals. 

‘No strain on the healthcare system’

One of the major goals of the initiative is to carry out widespread testing without putting more strain on the Swiss healthcare system. 

By producing ‘targeted tests’, the researchers would be able to look at which sectors of the population were immune and could return – while also having a more concrete idea as to how widespread infection with the virus has been throughout the community. 

The information gathered will not only allow for certain individuals to re-enter the community, but it will provide data from which new social distancing rules can be designed, tailored and implemented. 

Spokesperson Reiner Eichenberger told 20 Minutes that the tests should be accessible to everyone. 

“We’re currently stuck in a trap at home,” he said.

“Everyone should be able to do an immunity test if they want. Although only a small section of the population will likely be immune, these people automatically bring a dynamic back into society.”

Eichenberger said that those who have been confirmed as being immune to the virus could provide a vital link between those most vulnerable and society. 

“”They can save their business, visit their grandparents and help their neighbours.”

But are the tests reliable?

Doctors are concerned that the tests may not be reliable, thereby allowing formerly infected people to re-enter society without the proper oversight. 

Andreas Cerny, an infectious disease doctor at the Moncucco hospital in Lugano, told 20 Minutes that governments rather than the private sector should oversee such a testing regime. 

“Governments and cantons are better positioned for the coordinated use of reliable tests,” Cerny said. 

Lungenfachzentrum Fiechter, a lung specialist centre in Zurich, will begin immunity tests from the end of April, but has warned that seven weeks must pass from coronavirus infection in order that there are enough antibodies present to be properly detected. 

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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