Switzerland closes transit loophole for ‘high risk’ arrivals

In a statement, the Swiss government said it would be no longer possible to "circumvent" entry rules: "the country of departure counts, not the stopover country".

Switzerland closes transit loophole for 'high risk' arrivals
Entry and quarantine rules just got tougher. Photo by AFP

From Monday August 31st, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) indicated it would be toughening its policy on entry into Switzerland and the quarantine requirement. 

What prompted SEM to enforce the new regulations?

The new measures are being implemented because many travellers from “at-risk” countries have been trying to circumvent the entry and quarantine rules by transiting through ‘safe’ nations .

For instance, many travellers from countries that are on the government’s high-risk list, have taken a flight with a stopover in a ‘safe’ nation for which no entry restrictions or quarantine rules exist.

What is different from Monday?

According to SEM, “it will no longer be possible to enter Switzerland from a high-risk country on a transit flight via a non-high-risk country”.

Under the new rules, the airport of departure, not the stopover country, determines the rules of entry into Switzerland.

For instance, people returning to Switzerland from the United States, which is considered to be a high-risk country, can no longer transit through a ‘safe’ nation like Canada or a Schengen state to avoid the quarantine.

READ MORE: Will Switzerland’s compulsory quarantine period be shortened?

By the same token, the country of departure determines whether travellers may enter Switzerland at all.

What about passengers from 'third countries'?

People flying from ‘approved’ areas, including Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, can continue to enter Switzerland, even if they have to change planes in a country on the high-risk list, because no direct flights are available. 

*The only condition is that they do not leave the international transit area in the airport in which they stop over – that they do not actually enter the high-risk country”, SEM said.

“This new regulation aims to prevent people circumventing the entry requirements by travelling through countries not on the high-risk list”, the SEM said.

What is the difference between Switzerland’s two different ‘high-risk’ coronavirus lists?

As The Local explained in an article on August 19th, the first list is primarily intended for foreigners who wish to come to Switzerland — tourists, people who would like to visit relatives in Switzerland, or foreign nationals who are looking for work.

The second one is geared more towards residents of Switzerland who want to travel abroad and need to know what conditions are in place after their return.

As a reminder, travel restrictions are not based on nationality, but on the place of residence. 

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Switzerland to cut quarantine period for vaccinated and extend current measures

Switzerland will shorten the obligatory quarantine for anyone testing positive for Covid to five days, while extending the current measures until at least March. The duration of immunity for the Covid certificate will also be shortened.

Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset gestures during a press conference.. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset gestures during a press conference.. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Switzerland on Wednesday announced a range of changes to the existing Covid measures. 

As had been widely reported ahead of the announcement, the Covid quarantine period for positive cases was shortened from the current ten days to five for vaccinated and recovered people. 

People can leave quarantine after five days, provided they are symptom free for 48 hours. Based on the new advice, it does not appear a person needs to test negative – although the government has been contacted for a confirmation on this question. 

EXPLAINED: Why did Switzerland relax Covid quarantine rules?

The quarantine change applies both to people who have tested positive and those who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. 

“Close contact” will also be redefined. Now it will not include everyone someone with Covid has had contact with, but will be limited to the people they live with and people who had “regular and close” contact with a person who tested positive. 

The close contact quarantine will not apply to people who have had a booster in the past four months, but it will apply to those who have had two doses.

The unvaccinated will need to remain in quarantine for the original ten days. 

Cantons can decide to grant exemption to the quarantine rules. 

The duration of immunity under the rules of Switzerland’s Covid certificate will be reduced from one year to 270 days, i.e. nine months.

This is due to the belief that immunity due either to vaccination or recovery declines earlier than previously thought. 

The 270-day requirement applies to those who are fully vaccinated or to people who have previously had the virus.

This shortening of the time period for the validity of the Covid certificate will apply from February 1st, as with the EU’s rules for international travel. 

The current Covid measures, which are outlined in the link below, will also be extended. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current Covid measures?

While they were set to expire on January 24th, they will now be extended until March 31st. 

The government said the extension was necessary due to the situation in the country’s hospitals. 

Amid skyrocketing infection rates, the Swiss government said it had prepared additional measures which could be implemented quickly and immediately if the situation required it. 

“Should the situation in hospitals deteriorate significantly, the Federal Council can still act swiftly by imposing stricter measures such as the closure of facilities and institutions or by limiting capacity at large-scale events, regardless of the consultation,” the government said in a press release

The government is currently in consultation with experts and the cantons about these and further measures, including tighter mask rules and a change in testing rules.

This consultation will last until the 17th of January, however those listed here are expected to apply. 

For the full list of changes announced you can visit the government site HERE.