How Swiss businesses are using temperature scanners to cut coronavirus risks

Businesses and fitness centres across Switzerland have begun rolling out scanners to determine if their employees have a temperature, mirroring practices that have been common place in China.

How Swiss businesses are using temperature scanners to cut coronavirus risks
A temperature scanner in use at an Israeli airport. Photo: JACK GUEZ / AFP

While the practice may be able to prevent outbreaks, there are some concerns about civil liberties. 

Covid-19 has any number of symptoms – from loss of taste and smell to unknown mental impacts – but one of the most consistent has been high temperatures. 

Chinese authorities and businesses have used ‘fever screening’ regularly to identify possible infections, however the systems have mainly been employed in airports when used outside China. 

Using infrared technology, the fever scanners hope to identify anyone with an above average body temperature – without needing to come into contact with possibly infectious individuals. 

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

FC Luzern already using scanners

Already in use at FC Luzern games, the scanners are growing in popularity across Switzerland

The Ice Hockey National League told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that it is considering employing infrared cameras to improve safety at its games. 

The scanners have also been put in place at slaughterhouses across Switzerland to detect employee temperatures, as well as at Swiss and international firms including Spectec AG, Unilever and Pilatus-Flugzeugwerke. 

The NZZ reports that hotels all across Switzerland have been using the technology, with some hotels advertising to potential guests that their employees are regularly scanned. 

Nightclubs have also begun ordering the devices to detect potential infections among patrons – with everyone above 38 degrees to be turned away. 

At Pilatus-Flugzeugwerke in Stans, customers and employees are only allowed to enter if they have a body temperature below 37.7 degrees. 2,200 employees are scanned daily. 

At Pilatus or Unilever employee who refuses to walk past the camera will not be allowed onto the site and will need to go home. 

“The protection or health of all other employees is more important than the interests of an individual employee” a Pilatus spokesperson told the NZZ. 

Unilever said that while employees would not be allowed on site without a check, they would continue to receive full pay and would be allowed to work from

Privacy concerns? 

Some have expressed concerns about the temperature scanners, saying they are invasive and that the data they collect may fall into the wrong hands. 

Most of the software and hardware being used comes from China – where privacy concerns are less stringent. 

Representatives from Pilatus-Flugzeugwerke told the NZZ they deleted all relevant information after 14 days. 

Isabelle Wildhaber, Professor of Private and Commercial Law at the University of St. Gallen, told the NZZ that while the use of the cameras was likely to be lawful, companies should try and improve overall discretion by protecting the privacy of employees who may be infected. 

This could include scanning employees individually or behind a curtain. 

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UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?