Explained: What’s the difference between Switzerland’s two lists of high-risk Covid-19 countries?

The Swiss government has two different ‘high-risk’ coronavirus lists: one is of countries whose nationals are banned from entering Switzerland, and the other of those who must quarantine upon arrival. Both are updated regularly.

Explained: What's the difference between Switzerland’s two lists of high-risk Covid-19 countries?
Some foreigners are allowed into Switzerland and others aren't. Photo by AFP

The first list is established by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), and the second by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

The first is primarily intended for foreigners who wish to come to Switzerland; the second is more geared towards residents of Switzerland who want to travel abroad.

First, the SEM list

Entry into Switzerland has been restricted since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Residents of many countries that are not part of the Schengen Area or some ‘safe’ EU / EFTA and third nations are banned from entry.

There is, however, a “but”. If, in principle, entry into Swiss territory is prohibited, there are also exemptions.

Third-country nationals who have an employment contract, who come to receive medical treatment, or to study can continue to enter Switzerland, even if they are residents of countries on the list.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Who can enter Switzerland right now?

The ban therefore applies above all to tourists, people who would like to visit relatives in Switzerland, or foreign nationals who are looking for work.

The FOPH list

Regardless of these restrictions, entry into Switzerland is subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine from certain countries. 

The FOPH considers a country to be at risk from the moment the number of cases exceeds 60 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days. It is intended in particular for residents of Switzerland who are leaving or returning from vacation.

This is why the lists are confusing:

These lists can be tricky to get your head around. So let’s look at three specific examples.

– A US resident is not allowed to come to Switzerland as a tourist, as the United States is on the SEM’s 'high risk' list. On the other hand, Swiss residents in the United States have the right to return to the country, but they will have to quarantine themselves, since the US is included on the FOPH ‘high-risk’ group of countries.

– Spanish residents may come to Switzerland because Spain is a member of the Schengen Area. However, they will have to quarantine, as the country is on the FOPH list.

– Finally, a Turkish national who has found a job in Switzerland will be able to come to the country, although his or her country is listed on the SEM list. This person would not have to observe a quarantine, since Turkey is not on the FOPH list.

Is this all clear now? Check out the government website for more information: SEM and FOPH


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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?