How coronavirus will change the way we move around Swiss cities

The coronavirus pandemic is set to change mobility in Switzerland, with more cycling and less public transport usage - as well as more frequent working from home - a likely consequence of the pandemic.

How coronavirus will change the way we move around Swiss cities
How will the coronavirus change transport? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Despite declining infection rates and minimal fatalities in recent weeks, fear of contracting the coronavirus remains pervasive across Switzerland. 

The fear is particularly prevalent in public transport, where ventilation is often minimal and social distancing impossible. 

A study by Deloitte Switzerland has shown Swiss commuters are set to make the switch from public transport to other ‘private’ means of commuting, including bikes, e-bikes and cars. 

Working from home, which has exploded in popularity during the coronavirus lockdown, is also likely to remain long after the threat of a second wave of the virus is gone. 

Employee rights in Switzerland during the coronavirus: What you need to know 

The findings pose a challenge for Swiss policy makers who want to reduce traffic, particularly in the country’s largest cities. 

Both Zurich and Geneva have been recognised as having some of the world’s worst traffic congestion.

Drivers in the French-speaking city spend an average of 52 hours in relatively slow traffic every year while that figure is 51 hours in Zurich. 

A permanent shift from public to private?

One third of those surveyed said they will opt for more journeys on foot, by e-scooter or by bike. 

A quarter said they would permanently cut down on public transport use, as well as cutting ride sharing and taxi services. 

The desire to use private transport was particularly pronounced among younger people, with one in four under 30 saying they would drive a car more in the future, while just under a third said they would ride a motorbike more often. 

How will the coronavirus change transport in Switzerland? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Working from home is here to stay

As a result of the crisis, twice as many Swiss now work from home than they did before the outbreak. 

A third of those surveyed said they would continue to work from home after the crisis ends. 

A total of 41 percent of respondents said they felt they were more productive at home, while 31 percent said they felt the same. 

One quarter of respondents said they felt less productive when working from home than in the office. 

The authors said employers must respond to this desire by putting in place flexible working arrangements wherever possible. 

“People want to continue working from home more often in the future. Companies cannot avoid introducing or expanding more flexible working models,” said Matthias Thalmann from Deloitte Switzerland. 

“The accelerated flexibilisation of place of work and working time has positive effects because the employees become more independent of the location and can take their time management into their own hands. In addition, the traffic infrastructure is relieved and the climate is spared.”

In addition to a happier workforce, such a shift would ensure companies were better prepared for future crises – including a potential second wave of the coronavirus. 

“Our experience with customers has also been confirmed in this crisis: If companies have a good home office infrastructure and have equipped their employees with the necessary virtual resources and technologies, they can react quickly to new and unexpected situations,” said Veronica Melian from Deloitte Switzerland.

“As flexibility becomes more and more important, companies have to take action and close their technology gaps by finding and introducing solutions for virtual collaboration.”

Public transport and infection rates

In a separate study completed on Tuesday by ETH Lausanne, researchers found a direct link between mobility and higher likelihood of infection. 

The findings illustrated the importance of the lockdown measures, while also highlighting the potential for transmission that exists in small spaces such as public transport. 


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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