Switzerland’s hospital directors issue plea for tighter coronavirus measures

The directors of five of Switzerland’s largest hospitals have urged the health minister to impose stringent measures to reduce Covid infections, according to media reports.

Switzerland's hospital directors issue plea for tighter coronavirus measures
A health worker monitoring a patient at the hospital of La-Chaux-de-Fonds on November 5, 2020. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

In a letter to health minister Alain Berset, the directors of the university hospitals of Zurich, Bern, Basel, Lausanne and Geneva said the pandemic was forcing them to postpone operations for patients with other life-threatening conditions.

Gregor Zund, hospital director at the Zurich University hospital, said he wanted to see a full lockdown, including a ban on skiing, to bring the epidemic under control.

The newspaper SonntagsZeitung has reported that more than 4,000 operations have been postponed at the five hospitals since October.

Hospital directors said they feared that a third wave of coronavirus infections early next year could trigger a collapse in the health system, as intensive care beds were becoming scarce.

Switzerland has some of the worst per capita infection rates in Europe and the government fears the situation could spin out of control over Christmas.

On Friday it was announced that all shops, bars and restaurants would close from 7:00 pm until January 22, with the exception on the nights of December 24 and 31. 

“We're witnessing an exponential increase,” President Simonetta Sommaruga told a press conference in the capital Bern. “Our hospitals and our health workers are being stretched to the limit.”

In March, during the first wave of infections, Switzerland was not hit as hard by Covid-19 deaths and did not impose as strict a lockdown as some other European states.

It eased off those measures in stages, and many praised the Swiss handling of the crisis, with the emphasis placed on individual responsibility.

But relations among Switzerland's linguistic groups have frayed and government responses have come under fire since a new wave hit in the last three months.

With a population of 8.6 million, Switzerland is logging around 5,000 new cases and 100 deaths a day — a base level Health Minister Alain Berset said was far too high to start from if infections begin to double again.

EXPLAINED: Why are Covid-19 infections on the rise again in Switzerland?

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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