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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules for skiing in Switzerland this winter?

Skiing will be possible in Switzerland this winter despite coronavirus restrictions. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules for skiing in Switzerland this winter?
A skier in front of Switzerland's Zermat peak. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland has angered some of its neighbours by keeping the ski slopes open this winter, despite the risks associated with skiing and the coronavirus pandemic. 

While many of Switzerland's neighbouring countries have banned skiing this Christmas, Switzerland announced on December 4th that winter sports can take place under strict conditions.

Note: Some cantons – or even some specific ski resorts – have put in place stricter measures, while Graubünden and Valais have offered free mass testing to cut infection chains ahead of the ski season. 

Be sure to check the specific rules of the ski resort you plan on attending, reports German auto agency ADAC

What rules will apply on the slopes this year?

There are 339 ski resorts in the Swiss Alps, which operate total of 1,815 ski lifts.

All of them must adhere to the rules mandated at both national and cantonal levels.

Each lift operator can add their own measures on top of those already in place. The Swiss Ski Lift Association (SSLA) is putting in place a range of rules for skiing this year. 

Quotas

Les Portes du Soleil in canton Valais, one of Switzerland's biggest ski resorts announced on December 17th it would set a quota on the number of skiers allowed on its slopes in a bid to rein in the spread of Covid-19.

“Each day, only a predefined number of day passes will be put on sale”, officials said.

 

It is the first Swiss resort to impose a limit on the number of skiers.

Mouth and nose protection (face masks)

Masks will be mandatory not only in closed spaces such as mountain trains and cable cars, but also on open-air chair lifts and T-bars, as well as in queues.

But masks are not obligatory on the slopes.

What about queueing?

Queueing – or 'lining up' for all you Americans out there – will also be restricted somewhat. 

Queuing will be regulated so it runs in an orderly manner and without major clusters.

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

Also, gel disinfectant will be available throughout all the structures to ensure hand hygiene.

SSLA recommends purchasing passes online ahead of time to avoid crowds gathering at ticket windows.

Will capacities for chairlifts be limited?

No. “As is generally the case with public transport, capacity limitations are not imposed”, SSLA says.

However, cable car windows are open to provide ventilation.

But there are individual ski areas that are stricter in this regard. Andermatt-Sedrun, for example, has limited the number of people in the Gemsstock ski area.

Reservations are necessary for cable cars. 

What about closed ski lifts (gondolas)?

The number of passengers in closed ski lifts – otherwise known as gondolas – will be lowered to two thirds of the usual capacity.

What happens if someone breaks the rules? 

Police will patrol lift departure areas to make sure everyone is respecting the anti-Covid measures.

Guests who repeatedly break the rules can be punished or have their ski pass taken away.

READ MORE: Can Switzerland still save its ski season?

What about hospitals and access to medical care?

Cantons must ensure that they have the hospital capacity and the ability to undertake testing and contact tracing.

Will hotels be open?

Unlike in neighbouring Austria – where the ski slopes open on Christmas Eve but hotels must remain shut until January 7th – hotels will be open in Switzerland. 

There are a number of strict rules which apply, however it means that unlike in Austria skiers in Switzerland will not be restricted to day trips. 

What about other outdoor activities? 

There are few rules in place for those who want to spend Christmas outdoors, whether hiking, cross-country skiing, sledding, or engaging in other winter activities.

Being outdoors in open spaces is safe if distances can be maintained.

So while some holiday activities are banned or scaled down, there is still lots to enjoy during the Christmas season. 

Note: This information is correct as at December 17th, 2020. Please keep in mind that this article, as with all of our guides, are to provide assistance only. They are not intended to take the place of official legal advice.

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HEALTH

How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Switzerland’s health infrastructure is consistently rated among the best in the world, but how does it compare with other countries?

How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Whether in terms of politics, social system or economy, the Swiss often chart their own course, which fundamentally diverges from that of its European neighbours.

Healthcare is no exception.

The differences lie primarily in who finances the scheme — public versus private — and how the overall system functions.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system, which means everyone in the country is covered by insurance and has access to medical care.

In most countries, the government typically has control, to a lesser or greater extent, over funding, health insurance, and health providers.

In France, for instance, most healthcare costs are covered by the state healthcare system, known as assurance maladie, and this is funded by taxes – healthcare costs account for about 13 percent of the average person’s gross salary.

In Germany, health costs are shared by employers and workers, with employees paying 7.5 percent of their salaries into a public health insurance fund, and companies matching that amount.

Italy’s national, system, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or simply SSN, which is financed mainly though federal and regional taxes, automatically covers all residents. Medical care is largely free of charge at the point of service.

Public healthcare also exists in Austria, with certain portions of salaries being automatically deducted to fund the scheme. However, healthcare is free of charge for low-income people or those who who are disabled, studying, or retired.

Although no longer part of the EU, the UK health system is also based on state healthcare via the NHS. It is funded by taxes which account for about 4.5 percent of the average citizens’ gross income.

What about Switzerland?

The system here is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap — premiums are based on the canton of residence and age, costing 300 to 400 francs a month on average — but it is quite comprehensive; it includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

There are no employer-sponsored or state-run insurance programmes, and the government’s only role is to ensure that all insurance companies offer the same basic coverage to everyone and that they have the same pricing.

While companies can’t compete on prices or benefits offered by the basic compulsory insurance — which are defined by the Health Ministry — they can, and do, compete on supplemental polices which offer perks not included in the basic coverage.

READ MORE: What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

All policies have deductibles (also called co-pays) that can range from 300 to 2,500 francs a year.

After the deductible is reached, 90 percent of all medical costs will be covered by insurance, with 10 percent being paid by the patient; however, this co-pay is capped at 700 francs a year for adults and 350 francs for children under 18.

The government does subsidise healthcare for the low-income individuals and households – defined as those for whom insurance premiums exceed 10 percent of their income.

What percentage of a person’s income goes to health insurance premiums?

This depends on wages and premiums, for instance, whether a person chose the cheapest option with a high deductible or the expensive one with a 300-franc deductible.

Generally speaking, however, based on the average monthly income of just over 7,000 francs, about 6.5 percent is spent on premiums.

What happens if you don’t take out an health insurance policy?

Anyone who arrives in  Switzerland must get insured within three months. If you don’t, the government will choose one for you and send you the bill. If this happens you may end up with more expensive premiums than you might have gotten if you shopped around yourself.

If you are still delinquent on your payments, your healthcare will be restricted to emergencies only; any other non-urgent medical treatment will be denied, unless you pay for it out of pocket.

The pros and cons of the Swiss system

Let’s look at the ‘cons’ first. Basically, there is one: the cost.

Not only are insurance premiums high and steadily increasing, but, at 7,179 francs per capita, Switzerland has the third most expensive healthcare scheme in the world — behind only the United States ($12,318) and Germany ($7,383).

Unlike taxpayer-funded models, there is no price grading according to income, so people on a low income pay a high proportion of their income for healthcare than higher earners. 

However, the system is generally efficient, has an extensive network of doctors, as well as well-equipped hospitals and clinics.

Patients are free to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to see a specialist doctor in Switzerland without a referral

Waiting lists for medical treatments are relatively short.

According to a survey by the Organisation  for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) on how long patients in various countries typically wait for an appointment with a specialist, the share of people in Switzerland waiting a month or more is 23 percent, compared to 36 percent in France, 52 percent in Sweden, and 61 percent in Norway.

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