Why does Switzerland carry out so few coronavirus tests?

According to new figures, Switzerland is carrying out far too few tests to adequately chart the spread of coronavirus. Only four European countries - all of them in Eastern Europe - test less per positive case than Switzerland.

Why does Switzerland carry out so few coronavirus tests?
A healthcare worker takes a swab sample from a Swiss army reservist. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Despite the sophistication of its healthcare system and its comparative wealth, Switzerland is still not carrying out enough coronavirus testing. 

According to new figures put together by Our World in Data and published in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, only four countries – Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania have tested less than Switzerland over the past seven days. 

The ‘tests per case’ is another way of explaining ‘test positivity’, which refers to how many tests need to be carried out in order to identify one positive coronavirus case. 

Switzerland over the past seven days has carried out 3.7 tests per positive case. 

EXPLAINED: Why certain parts of Switzerland are to vote on coronavirus measures 

Poland (2.1), Bulgaria (2.6), Croatia (3.4) and Romania 3.6) are the only other countries in Europe who carry out fewer tests per positive case. 

Denmark leads Europe, with 60.2 tests per case, followed by Turkey (50.3), Norway (35.9) and Finland (34.1). 

The World Health Organisation suggests that 10-30 tests per case should be considered an international benchmark for adequate testing. 


‘Insufficient testing’

According to the NZZ, the data shows that testing in Switzerland is ‘insufficient’, adding that the results are ‘surprising’ and that the data indicates the virus is spreading ‘uncontrollably’. 

This is surprising, because the number of tests in Switzerland is insufficient in relation to the number of infections,” the NZZ writes.  

“This is indicated by the proportion of positive tests. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this should be less than 5 percent. In Switzerland it is currently still at 22.8 percent and thus at a very high level. 

“This development is alarming, as very high positivity rates indicate that the virus is spreading uncontrollably. 

“The number of tests carried out in Switzerland is therefore not sufficient to be able to understand the infection process.”


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Reader question: Can Brits in Switzerland donate blood?

For many years, people coming from the United Kingdom were banned from donating their blood in Switzerland. This is what the situation is right now.

Reader question: Can Brits in Switzerland donate blood?

The ‘blood ban’ that extended to British citizens or those of any nationality who had lived in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), was implemented for safety purposes.

The reason was the so-called mad cow disease (BSE), which was particularly rampant in Great Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many people contracted and even died from the cattle-borne condition known scientifically as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

It is believed that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of the disease. 

While most of them got BSE from eating contaminated beef, “experience tells us that the disease could be transmitted from human to human via blood”, according to a BBC report.

As a result, a number of governments, including the Swiss, prohibited people from the UK to donate blood.

However, this rule is no longer in force in Switzerland.

According to Geneva’s university hospital (HUG), which is a member of the national blood transfusion network Blutspende and follows the same rules, only people who had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 for more than six months at a stretch still can’t donate blood.

This is a period when the BSE outbreak was at its worst in the UK.

If you had lived in Great Britain prior to or after that date, you can safely donate your blood.

Have there been any BSE cases in Switzerland?

About 465 cases had been reported in Switzerland between 1990 and 2020, with less than 20 deaths.

There are still isolated cases of BSE throughout Europe, but they are no longer a cause for as much concern as previously.

Can everyone donate blood in Switzerland?

Gay men are still not allowed to do so.

Under Swiss law, any man who has had sex with another man is prevented from donating blood for 12 months — the legislation was introduced during the the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, while the 12-month rule was introduced in 2017.

However, in March 2020, the National Council’s Commission for Social Security and Health said the rule was “no longer appropriate” and filed a motion to rescind it. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to clear way for gay and bisexual men to donate blood

Who else is prevented from donating blood?

According to Blutspende, these medical and other conditions disqualify people from donating blood in Switzerland:

  • Positive test for HIV (AIDS), syphilis, hepatitis C and hepatitis B
  • Prostitution
  • Past or present drug use by injection
  • Blood transfusion after 01.01.1980

These reasons could be a cause for deferral though not an outright ban:

  • Stay during the past six months in a region where malaria is endemic, without any health problem (in case of illness with fever, tell the doctor at the blood donation centre).
  • Suffering from a sexually transmitted disease during the past 12 months
  • Change of sexual partner during the past four months
  • Sexual intercourse with multiple partners during the past 12 months
  • Stay of six months or longer in the past 12 months in countries with a high HIV-prevalence

More information about blood donation in Switzerland can be found here.