Swiss researchers develop ‘coronavirus passports’ to show immunity

Switzerland is working towards issuing ‘immunity passports’ to allow people who are no longer able to catch the virus to re-enter society, although there are some reservations.

Swiss researchers develop 'coronavirus passports' to show immunity
A researcher with Swiss firm Liebherr working on a coronavirus test in northern Italy. Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

Swiss researchers are developing a plan to issue coronavirus ‘immunity passports’ to members of the population who have had Covid-19 or been vaccinated against the virus and are therefore immune. 

The plan, reported in the Tages Anzeiger on Tuesday, mirrors a similar plan in Germany where researchers are looking to establish coronavirus immunity through antibody testing. 

Once issued, the passport holders would be able to work in diverse industries as well as engage in social life and sports, as well as possibly travel abroad. 

READ: Coronavirus tracking: Swiss restaurants and bars to demand customer names and phone numbers

Idris Guessous from the University Hospital of Geneva has begun a research project which will use volunteers to investigate immunity to the virus, issuing those who are immune – either through having the virus or later by being vaccinated – with a Covid ID card or passport. 

The passport would also include a QR code in order to improve security, while the companies working on developing the passport have promised that the centrally-stored data will be safe. 

Philippe Gillet from Sicpa, one of the companies developing the passport, told the Tages Anzeiger that data would be protected through the use of QR codes and blockchain. 

“Thanks to our QR code and blockchain technology, we can guarantee the integrity and protection of private data,” he said. 

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, evidence on immunity could be available by autumn – allowing for the passports to be issued. 

Brigitte Meier, of the FOPH, said that the preferred approach would be to issue those who had been vaccinated against the virus with an immunity passport, allowing them to prove that they were immune. 

Guessous however told the Tages Anzeiger that there were still several unknowns about how people build immunity to the virus, meaning there was a need to be wary about the passport plan.

In particular, he was concerned that passport holders would accrue extra rights under the plan which may lead to discrimination.

Guessous also said that it could incentivise catching the virus and prompting some to become infected on purpose, leading to another spike in infections and potentially deaths. 

The World Health Organisation has stated publicly that it is opposed to issuing immunity passports. 


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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