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HEALTH

IN PICTURES: Swiss hit the slopes ‘to save ski season’

Can Switzerland's love of the mountains and passion for winter sports save an industry crippled by coronavirus?

IN PICTURES: Swiss hit the slopes 'to save ski season'
Skiers line up for a chairlift in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The coronavirus crisis shuttered Switzerland's ski resorts in the spring, but they are banking on tighter precautions and the Swiss love of the mountains to save them as the winter season kicks off.

Hikers at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier getting an A+ in social distancing. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

A masked skier carves up some pow-pow at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

At the end of October, the Swiss Ski Lift Association tightened measures against the virus, making it mandatory to wear a facemask not only in closed cable car cabins, but also on open-air chair lifts and in queues.

READ MORE: Can Switzerland still save its ski season?

The resorts are also counting on the Helvetic love of the outdoors, with lift associations launching a campaign urging the Swiss to “hit the slopes”.

“This is where we have a trump card to play,” said Vaucher, who has given up on US and Asian visitors this year, but hopes his compatriots will head for the mountains in greater numbers.

A skier at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Former alpine skiing Olympic champion Didier Defago (L) and Televerbier CEO Laurent Vaucher both wearing a protective face mask at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Gregory Quin, a sports historian at the University of Lausanne, said the medium-altitude resorts could do especially well with the Swiss this year “because people rely on proximity”.

READ: Will an American-style queuing system end chaos at Swiss ski lifts? 

There is also a glimmer of hope that European tourists could still flock to Switzerland to ski over Christmas after Bern recently lifted quarantine requirements for people arriving from most of the continent.

Skiers get off a chair lift at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Skiers at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

A snowboarder at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Skiers at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

But it remains to be seen whether anything like the usual numbers will do so, considering the difficulties to travel from a range of countries currently under some form of lockdown.

Even if the number of skiers remains high, resorts will largely have to do without income from apres-ski activities and ski schools, which have been banned in several cantons.

That will be tough, given that ski schools and camps can account for up to a third of a station's revenues, Quin said.

By the end of October, 110,000 people had already signed up for the 749-Swiss franc ($820, 695-euro) Magic Pass, an annual unlimited ski lift access at 30 resorts.

Valais, where the Verbier resort is located, has been one of Switzerland's hardest-hit cantons when it comes to the virus. 

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HEALTH

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
 

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