Ending Switzerland’s coronavirus lockdown: The key questions

On Thursday Switzerland announced how it would be lifting its coronavirus lockdown in stages. But there are many questions about what happens next. Here’s what you need to know.

Ending Switzerland’s coronavirus lockdown: The key questions
A man reads a newspaper in Plainpalais place in Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset laid out the way in which the country will emerge from lockdown. 

Restrictions will be gradually eased in three stages: on April 27, May 11 and finally on June 8, the government said.

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The bare bones of the announcement did however leave a number of questions unanswered, which Berset and other representatives from the Swiss government and healthcare authorities attempted to clarify late on Thursday. 

The relaxation of the lockdown has been done according to the government’s motto of “As quickly as possible, but as slowly as necessary” said Berset on Thursday. 

Should people still stay at home?

Berset said that although the restrictions would be wound back, the overall requirement of staying at home would not be changed. 

“Yes, the recommendation remains. It has worked well so far. If we want to have a chance that things will continue to go well, we must continue to comply with these measures in the future.”

What about Switzerland’s borders?

There is as yet no set date on when borders will be reopened and how this will be done. Borders with France, Italy and Germany and Austria have been closed to most travellers except cross-border workers.

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Are visits to hospitals and nursing homes still banned? 

This is the responsibility of the canton. As Berset said, there is the need to strike an effective balance. 

“The cantons are responsible for this. You always have to find the right balance. Older people also need a visit. But at the same time, they are particularly at risk,” he said.

What about the ban on gatherings of more than 5?

The ban on meeting in groups larger than five outside the house is due to end on June 8th, although this will only happen under certain conditions.

As with the May 11th phase, the final decision on the June 8th phase will be made on May 27th – provided again there are no notable increases in infections. 

Will masks be compulsory – and who will need to wear them?

In the initial announcement, the government said that workers in some professions would be encouraged to wear masks – while others would need to wear one as a requirement. 

Berset said however that exactly who would fit into either category would need to be determined in the coming days. 

When asked if hairdressers would need to wear masks, Berset said “We assume that a mask will be required for all personal services. That still has to be worked out in the next few days.”

What about football games and concerts?

According to the Health Minister, these are likely to be the last areas in which the restrictions will be lifted. But no date was set.

Berset said he wasn’t confident these events would take place in Switzerland before August. 

“We took the first measures six or seven weeks ago. Nobody can see what will be in six, seven weeks. We'll have to look at that closely.” 

“Large-scale events are very likely the last events that can take place again. Other countries have already banned them until the end of August. 

“We're not that far in Switzerland. However, we are not very optimistic about this.”

People walk past a red-and-white police warning tape in Plainpalais place in Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP


Why are schools not all opened at once?

The directive said that compulsory schools will be opened from May 11th, while from June 8th, secondary schools, universities and vocational schools will be allowed to open.

When asked why this could not all take place at once, Berset said that it was in order to reduce the overall risk of infection as movement is less easy to control in a school environment. 

“We want to take it easy step by step. We already know that when we open the schools, we'll have a lot more movement than when we first loosened up,” he said. 

“We are slowly trying to have more movement again. That's why we are opening the schools in a second stage, which will come quite soon after the first one.”

What about home working?

Anyone who can work from home will still be encouraged to do so. 

However, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga said that there will be some loosening of this requirement as time goes on, without further clarification. 

“As long as the social distance and hygiene rules apply, home office makes sense. (However) the loosening will certainly lead to a reduction in this area.”

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

What about sport and gyms?

The earliest that amateur sporting competitions will be able to again take place will be in the third wave, on June 8th, although this is not certain. 

Gyms will be given the opportunity to open on May 11th, however they will need to prove that they can comply with social distancing rules. 

Professional sport is likely to however be much further off. 

Will I be able to visit pools and baths – Badis – at all in summer?

Although the reopening of the Badis has not been contemplated at all in the three phases as outlined by Berset, this is not off the table completely. 

Federal Office of Public Health representative Daniel Koch said there was a possibility that pools could be reopened. 

“Swimming pools are safe to use. They have a lot of chlorine, which kills pretty much everything. And there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through free water,” Koch said. 

However no date was given. 

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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