‘No to SwissCovid’: Swiss far-right launch referendum bid to ban coronavirus tracing app

A citizens initiative has been launched against Switzerland’s coronavirus tracing app.

‘No to SwissCovid’: Swiss far-right launch referendum bid to ban coronavirus tracing app
The interface of Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Under the name ’No to SwissCovid’, advocates are hoping to amend the country’s epidemic law in order to ban the app. 

The initiative was founded by Jean-Luc Addor, a national council member from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. 

They say the government has gone too far in developing and rolling out the app, which impinges on the personal freedoms of Swiss citizens. 

In a statement accompanying the launch of the campaign, Addor says “the authorities of the country operated a coup d'état at the time of the pandemic by granting themselves the right to impose laws, we launch into resistance and ask that the last word return to the citizen”. 

READ MORE: Q&A: How will Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app work? 

“With this tracking system, we put one foot in the door of your privacy. The data will not only be accessible by the Swiss authorities, but by the rest of the world. We know the flaws of this tool, the application must use the operating systems of Google and Apple, but we know the appetite of these giants of the Net in terms of data collection.”

Addor said he was concerned the app would become mandatory in the future, citing the implementation of the mask requirement in public transport in Switzerland. 

Launched on June 25th, the app – entitled SwissCovid – is voluntary and the government has repeatedly promised it will not be made mandatory. 

It has been made free to members of the public. 

The initiative hopes to gather 50,000 signatures by October 8th, which would then force it to be put to a referendum. 

The chances of the referendum’s success appear limited however, as almost two million Swiss have downloaded the app in the four weeks since its launch

While this does not reach the 60 percent threshold researchers were hoping for, it exceeds the 20 percent target that the government wanted to reach when the app was launched.

At least 20 percent of the population are unable to download the app as it cannot be used on older phones, undermining the campaign’s argument that it will be made compulsory for all Swiss citizens. 

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.

Image: SwissCovid/ETH

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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