Swiss parliament approves coronavirus tracing app

Swiss lawmakers on Monday gave a green light to the country's Bluetooth contact-tracing app aimed at preventing a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Swiss parliament approves coronavirus tracing app
A close up of the interface of Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The National Council approved the legal basis needed for the SwissCovid app by 156 votes to 22, allowing it to be rolled out to the general public.

The smartphone application uses Bluetooth wireless technology to register other phones that 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 test phase was launched in mid-May. 

READ: This is how Switzerland's coronavirus tracking app will work

Health Minister Alain Berset said it should not extend beyond the end of June. Berset said the test period was needed to find and fix any defects. 

The app is optional and no personal data or location information is used.

Some 1,660 people have died in Switzerland — a country of 8.5 million people — out of nearly 30,900 infected with the virus.

Switzerland stopped short of imposing strict confinement when it introduced measures in mid-March aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus.

It began gradually easing its restrictions on April 27, and lifted most of the remaining measures on Saturday, with infection, hospitalisation and death rates having been low and stable for some weeks.

Nevertheless, people are encouraged to maintain physical distancing, wear a mask when that is not possible, stick to hand hygiene rules, and continue to work from home if possible.

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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