Swiss set to launch coronavirus tracing app

The Swiss government said Friday that it will launch a smartphone app next week designed to trace people potentially infected with COVID-19.

Swiss set to launch coronavirus tracing app
Photo: AFP

Earlier this week,  parliament thwarted the government's original roll-out plans, deciding that the phone application could not get the green light without a proper legal basis.

The app uses Bluetooth wireless technology to register other phones which come into close proximity. It works by tracing people who may unwittingly have been in prolonged contact with someone who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The pilot phase, due to run until the end of May, will be limited to “a certain population group”, Health Minister Alain Berset told a press conference.

In the meantime, the government will clarify the legal framework necessary for the app and submit it to parliament at the end of May, in the hope that MPs will quickly provide the green light, said Berset.

“If parliament says no, it's over” for the app, he said.

Berset also called on hackers to come forward to test the app's defences — particularly on data protection.

If the app is authorised by parliament, it will be optional and no personal data or location information will be used, the government said. COVID-19 has killed 1,525 people in Switzerland, while 30,124 have tested positive, according to daily health ministry figures out Friday.

The Alpine nation stopped short of imposing strict confinement in measures introduced in mid-March aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. It is gradually lifting its lockdown restrictions.

Barbers, florists, family doctors and hardware stores were allowed to reopen on April 27.

Schools, restaurants, museums and libraries will be allowed to reopen from Monday, as long as appropriate personal protection is in place.

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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