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HEALTH

Switzerland’s coronavirus tracing app to launch on Thursday

The SwissCovid app will launch on Wednesday, June 25th. Here's what you need to know.

Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app to launch on Thursday
A close-up of the Swiss coronavirus tracing app 'SwissCovid'. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app, SwissCovid, will be available for download on Thursday, June 25th. 

The app will be available for Apple and Android devices and can be downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play Store. 

Health Minister Alain Berset said the feedback from trial users of the app has been overwhelmingly positive. 

What is the app?

Swiss researchers from the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a contact tracing app which is set to be released in late June. 

The app received final parliamentary approval on Friday June 19th and is regulated by the Data Protection Act and the Epidemics Act.

It has been given the name 'SwissCovid'. 

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health hopes the app will curb the spread of the virus by allowing for the tracking of infection chains. 

Image: SwissCovid/ETH

What is contact tracing?

The process involves identifying contaminated people, so that measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infection on to others.

It is all the more important in cases when the sick person has no symptoms and may not even know they are sick.

Once the infected person is identified, efforts are made to locate and test the people they have been in contact with within the past two weeks. If one of those contacts is found to be infected, the investigation starts again.

How does the app work?

The app uses bluetooth to digitally trace contact in order to get a more accurate idea for how the virus is spreading within the general public – and how to stop it. 

The app registers when an individual comes into contact with other individuals through a person’s smartphone location systems and bluetooth. 

READ: Swiss scientists launch a new app to collect Covid-19 data

Contact is traced when one person with the app is less than two metres from another person with the app for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. 

Such contacts are recorded anonymously on both devices. 

If one of those users tests positive for the coronavirus, the person will receive a 'covid code' from the cantonal authorities.

Using this code, those who have been in contact with the positive person will be notified via the app. Once notified, users will be asked to contact the Swiss coronavirus hotline.

A trial version of the app is available from Google and Apple, although the general public is encouraged not to use it until the trial phase is over. 

Why was the app delayed? 

Originally, the app was to be released on May 11th but is now scheduled for release on Thursday, June 25th. 

A major reason for the delay was that the government wanted to ensure the app complied with data protection laws, while changes to the Epidemic Act also needed to be made. 

Another reason for the delay was that the government needed to wait for Google and Apple to finish their bluetooth interfaces for contact tracing. 

A trial phase was also conducted which involved asking hackers to test the software for glitches and faults. 

Will it be compulsory? 

No. The app is voluntary. 

The government has also promised that the app will be discontinued when the virus can be brought under control by other means. 

Some Swiss politicians have argued that the app must be made mandatory. 

SVP councillor Andrea Gmür said “for the app to be effective, it needs to be mandatory during the acute emergency phase”. 

At this stage however the government has said it will remain voluntary. 

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP

How much will it cost?

The app is free for all smartphone users. Those using the app will have the cost of a coronavirus test covered by the Swiss government, provided they receive a warning notification via the app. 

What do users need to do? 

Once the app is installed, all users need to do is make sure their phone – and bluetooth – are switched on. 

Will it be effective? 

With contact tracing apps proving effective in several Asian countries, researchers have been looking to implement something similar in Switzerland. 

There have however been privacy protection issues, as well as concerns that it will not be effective unless it is downloaded by at least 60 percent of Swiss society. 

EXPLAINED: How will the post-lockdown tracing system look in Switzerland? 

Researchers from Oxford University have said that the app will be ineffective with a lower percentage signup. 

How about privacy concerns? 

Switzerland had initially been a part of a European initiative on contract tracing, but withdrew due to privacy concerns. 

They did so after realising that user data would not be protected, and went on launch the D3-PT system which, they said, would be more “decentralised and transparent”.
 

The DP-3T app uses decentralised information which better protects personal data as it can less easily be collated, stored and harvested. 

In a decentralised system, the information is stored on users phones rather than in a database. Information is deleted automatically after three weeks. 

Location data is not stored as bluetooth only determines how close phones are to each other, not where they are in Switzerland – this is why bluetooth rather than GPS has been preferred. 

When information is sent from a user's phone to a server in the case of an infection, this information is encrypted. 

In a statement, the creators have said that the system protects the privacy of app users. 

“The aim of the system is to minimise the risks to the privacy and security of individuals and communities and to guarantee the highest level of data protection”. 

Will it work outside Switzerland? 

Although other countries are working on their tracing apps, as yet SwissCovid will only have limited international compatibility. 

 

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TAXES

Masks, tests and jabs: Can I deduct Covid-related costs from my taxes in Switzerland?

Switzerland’s tax deadline is just around the corner. Are Covid-related costs tax deductible?

Masks, tests and jabs: Can I deduct Covid-related costs from my taxes in Switzerland?

March 31st is the deadline for filing taxes in Switzerland relating to the 2021 financial year. 

Over the past two years, the Covid pandemic has seen a change in our spending habits. 

While we may have saved on restaurants and travel, we laid out considerable costs on a range of new expenses, including disinfectant, masks and Covid tests. 

As some of these costs are required by law, can they be deducted from your tax?

In some cases, expenses directly related to the Covid pandemic can be deducted. 

Masks, for instance, can be deducted as medical expenses in some cantons, Swiss tax specialist Markus Stoll told 20 Minutes

This depends on the specific framework for tax deductions related to medical expenses in that canton. 

EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Switzerland?

Generally speaking, any medical costs paid out of pocket can be deducted. However, most cantons impose a minimum percentage limit from which these costs can be deducted. 

In many cantons, this will start at five percent of your yearly income in total (i.e. including other out-of-pocket costs like dental or specialist visits), meaning you would need to purchase a significant amount of masks to beat the threshold. 

What about testing and vaccination?

Testing and vaccinations however were largely free as their costs were covered by the Swiss government, which means associated expenses cannot be deducted. 

Those tests which were not covered by the government – for instance for travel abroad or for visiting clubs – cannot be deducted, Stoll says. 

“Tests for travel abroad or to visit clubs are not deductible” Stoll said. 

For a complete overview of taxation in Switzerland, including several specific guides, please check out our tax-specific page here. 

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