Switzerland rolls back coronavirus lockdown earlier than expected: What you need to know

The Swiss government brought forward a plan to ease lockdown restrictions in the country meaning pubs, restaurants gyms and other sites can reopen sooner than expected so the country "can learn to live with the virus."

Switzerland rolls back coronavirus lockdown earlier than expected: What you need to know
A man walks past an empty restaurant in Lausanne. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Simonetta Sommaruga and Health Minister Alain Berset announced the easing of restrictions which began on April 27th.

While some of these had been announced previously, others – including removing restrictions on restaurants, pubs museums, art galleries, libraries and on sporting competitions – were surprising as these were initially planned to reopen on June 8th. 

Sommaruga said that the relaxations were sooner than expected largely because of the success of the lockdown measures, however she warned that the battle was not over. 

“We have achieved a lot. We don't want to endanger that,” she said. “We will have to live with the virus for a while.”

Minister of Health Alain Berset said that while reopening bars and restaurants was originally planned for June 8th, doing so on May 11th “is a good way to learn to live with the virus.”

Swiss authorities also stopped short of imposing making face masks o, although masks are recommended in public transport – particularly in peak hours. 

This is the latest plan to ease restrictions in Switzerland.


Primary and lower secondary schools will be again allowed to open from May 11th. 

The specific regulation of schools is set to take place at a cantonal level. No social distancing rules have been laid out by the federal government, but they may be introduced by the cantons. 

Daniel Koch, spokesperson for the Federal Office of Public Health, said “It is very rare for children to transmit and get the virus. Children very rarely infect other children. The situation is stable and there is no contradiction that the schools are reopened – it is understandable and correct.”

Universities, vocational colleges and high schools will also be allowed to host events again, provided it is with groups of five or fewer people. 

Grammar school exams will however not go ahead, with the 2020 vocational baccalaureates being decided purely on experience.  

Restaurants and pubs open from May 11th

Perhaps the most surprising news from Wednesday’s announcement was that restaurants in Switzerland would again be allowed to open on May 11th, rather than June 8th.

To do so however, they will need to comply with a strict set of requirements. 

No more than four people will be allowed to sit at one table, while all guests must be seated. Therefore, pubs will be allowed to open provided seating is provided. 

Groups of guests must sit more than two metres away from other groups, or be separated by some form of partitioning. 

Parents and their children will be an exception to the four-person limit, with families allowed to sit groups larger than four. 

Museums, galleries and libraries 

Another surprising aspect of the announcements is that museums would again be allowed to open on May 11th.

These venues will be subject to entry restrictions and hygiene requirements similar to those seen in supermarkets across Switzerland. 

Public transport

Public transport will again be allowed to open in Switzerland, with transit networks running according to their regular timetables from May 11th onwards. 

The government also announced a package to support the domestic aviation industry, however no indication was given as to when domestic flight schedules would return to normal. 

Sports and gyms

From May 11th restrictions on sporting pursuits will also be relaxed, both for professional and for recreational sport. 

Gyms will be also allowed to open, provided they could show they were complying with social distancing and hygiene regulations. 

As of May 11th, elite team training as well as grassroots sport in groups of five or fewer would again be allowed across the country. 

The authorities also gave the go ahead to professional sporting competitions, with Switzerland’s Super League again allowed from June 8th. 

Switzerland relaxes coronavirus lockdown for professional and recreational sport 

This means that the country’s top-flight football competition will be back after only a three-month break. 

The games will however take place in front of empty stadiums until at least August. 

While grassroots sport will be allowed from May 11th only with groups of up to five, elite and professional sporting competitions will be allowed to begin full training on the same date. 

When doing so however these sports will need to ensure that they comply with hygiene requirements as handed down by Swiss authorities. 

What will remain closed? 

Zoos and botanic gardens are at this stage closed until at least June 8th. 

Similarly, events with over 1,000 people are banned until August. 

Health Minister Alain Berset said during the press conference that the ban on large-scale events would be reconsidered at a Federal Council meeting on May 27th. 

“You can also look at neighbouring countries. They had already pronounced these bans by the end of August.

“Hygiene measures cannot be properly observed at major events and contact tracing is also difficult. It affects a lot of events and I know it's difficult. But it's good if you have clarity now.”



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How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Switzerland’s health infrastructure is consistently rated among the best in the world, but how does it compare with other countries?

How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Whether in terms of politics, social system or economy, the Swiss often chart their own course, which fundamentally diverges from that of its European neighbours.

Healthcare is no exception.

The differences lie primarily in who finances the scheme — public versus private — and how the overall system functions.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system, which means everyone in the country is covered by insurance and has access to medical care.

In most countries, the government typically has control, to a lesser or greater extent, over funding, health insurance, and health providers.

In France, for instance, most healthcare costs are covered by the state healthcare system, known as assurance maladie, and this is funded by taxes – healthcare costs account for about 13 percent of the average person’s gross salary.

In Germany, health costs are shared by employers and workers, with employees paying 7.5 percent of their salaries into a public health insurance fund, and companies matching that amount.

Italy’s national, system, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or simply SSN, which is financed mainly though federal and regional taxes, automatically covers all residents. Medical care is largely free of charge at the point of service.

Public healthcare also exists in Austria, with certain portions of salaries being automatically deducted to fund the scheme. However, healthcare is free of charge for low-income people or those who who are disabled, studying, or retired.

Although no longer part of the EU, the UK health system is also based on state healthcare via the NHS. It is funded by taxes which account for about 4.5 percent of the average citizens’ gross income.

What about Switzerland?

The system here is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap — premiums are based on the canton of residence and age, costing 300 to 400 francs a month on average — but it is quite comprehensive; it includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

There are no employer-sponsored or state-run insurance programmes, and the government’s only role is to ensure that all insurance companies offer the same basic coverage to everyone and that they have the same pricing.

While companies can’t compete on prices or benefits offered by the basic compulsory insurance — which are defined by the Health Ministry — they can, and do, compete on supplemental polices which offer perks not included in the basic coverage.

READ MORE: What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

All policies have deductibles (also called co-pays) that can range from 300 to 2,500 francs a year.

After the deductible is reached, 90 percent of all medical costs will be covered by insurance, with 10 percent being paid by the patient; however, this co-pay is capped at 700 francs a year for adults and 350 francs for children under 18.

The government does subsidise healthcare for the low-income individuals and households – defined as those for whom insurance premiums exceed 10 percent of their income.

What percentage of a person’s income goes to health insurance premiums?

This depends on wages and premiums, for instance, whether a person chose the cheapest option with a high deductible or the expensive one with a 300-franc deductible.

Generally speaking, however, based on the average monthly income of just over 7,000 francs, about 6.5 percent is spent on premiums.

What happens if you don’t take out an health insurance policy?

Anyone who arrives in  Switzerland must get insured within three months. If you don’t, the government will choose one for you and send you the bill. If this happens you may end up with more expensive premiums than you might have gotten if you shopped around yourself.

If you are still delinquent on your payments, your healthcare will be restricted to emergencies only; any other non-urgent medical treatment will be denied, unless you pay for it out of pocket.

The pros and cons of the Swiss system

Let’s look at the ‘cons’ first. Basically, there is one: the cost.

Not only are insurance premiums high and steadily increasing, but, at 7,179 francs per capita, Switzerland has the third most expensive healthcare scheme in the world — behind only the United States ($12,318) and Germany ($7,383).

Unlike taxpayer-funded models, there is no price grading according to income, so people on a low income pay a high proportion of their income for healthcare than higher earners. 

However, the system is generally efficient, has an extensive network of doctors, as well as well-equipped hospitals and clinics.

Patients are free to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to see a specialist doctor in Switzerland without a referral

Waiting lists for medical treatments are relatively short.

According to a survey by the Organisation  for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) on how long patients in various countries typically wait for an appointment with a specialist, the share of people in Switzerland waiting a month or more is 23 percent, compared to 36 percent in France, 52 percent in Sweden, and 61 percent in Norway.