‘Officially a high-risk area’: How Geneva became Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspot

The western Swiss canton of Geneva is now one of Europe’s hotspots for new coronavirus infections. In one of Europe’s wealthiest regions with excellent health care, how did it get so bad?

‘Officially a high-risk area’: How Geneva became Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspot
Geneva's coronavirus infections are skyrocketing. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

On Monday, August 3rd, the number of new infections per 100,000 residents in Geneva crossed the 100 mark, reaching 103 per 100,000 for the past 14 days. 

The mark is well above the Swiss government’s ‘high risk’ classification of 60 per 100,000 – meaning that if Geneva was a separate country, residents would be forced to quarantine upon entering the rest of Switzerland. 

On Saturday August 1st, Belgium banned travel to and from Geneva, along with Valais and Vaud, as a result of the rising infections, although Valais and Vaud were removed from the list on Wednesday, August 5th.

READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's new quarantine requirement 

Nicola Low, epidemiologist at the University of Bern, told Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes “the infection figures refer to an entire country. On average, they are lower in Switzerland than in the countries on the quarantine list.”

“Geneva is currently a hotspot. If Geneva were a country, the FOPH would have to put it on the quarantine list.”

In one of Europe’s wealthiest regions with excellent health care – not to mention the headquarters of the World Health Organisation – how did it get so bad? 

‘Population density, airport and border with France’

As Low explained to 20 Minute “the canton lies on the border with France, is particularly densely populated in the city of Geneva and has an airport.”

Although Geneva only has the sixth largest population of any Swiss canton, after Basel City it is the second densest of all of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

While not everything is known about the virus and how it spreads, urban areas around the globe have been particularly susceptible to new infections. 

Although passenger traffic has declined significantly since the start of the crisis, Geneva remains Switzerland’s second-busiest airport – serving both the west of the country as well as parts of France

And although the border was closed at the height of the pandemic, it was left open to cross-border workers – many of whom work in Geneva. 

In 2019, an estimated 325,000 people crossed the border into Switzerland every day to work – 177,000 from France, 76,000 from Italy and 60,000 from Germany.

READ MORE: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus 'catastrophe' by protecting cross-border workers 

How is Geneva reacting? 

Geneva now has some of the strictest coronavirus measures seen anywhere in Switzerland. 

Masks are required in service, in shops and in public transport, while nightclubs have been closed since Friday. 



Member comments

  1. I’m really not sure about your comment ‘although the border was closed at the height of the pandemic, it was left open to cross-border workers – many of whom work in Geneva.’ This insinuates that the frontaliers (of which I am one) are responsible for the high numbers of covid 19 infection in Geneva. During the lockdown France was much more restricted in terms of movement and social contact than Switzerland, I could see pictures on social media of gatherings at the lake and in towns while we couldn’t move without an attestation and then only for particular reasons. Once the lockdown was lifted it was really strange to cross the border and see how relatively unchanged life has been. Speaking to people who work on the French side of the border they were really concerned about the borders reopening because of the knowledge that there were relatively many more cases of Covid on the Swiss side than on the French.
    My point is that suggesting that cross-border traffic has led to a rise in cases is unfair and probably unprovable. It would be better to look at the behaviours of many young people on the Swiss side of the border which has been, to say the least, irresponsible.

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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