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Switzerland to introduce free nationwide coronavirus testing

Switzerland on Wednesday decided to make coronavirus testing free all across the country for all people at a cost of one billion francs.

Switzerland to introduce free nationwide coronavirus testing
Laboratory technicians test for coronavirus. Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Switzerland said Wednesday it was prepared to spend more than a billion dollars on testing for asymptomatic Covid-19 cases, saying they were probably responsible for most new infections.

Health Minister Alain Berset said the government would assume the estimated costs of around one billion Swiss francs ($1.12 billion, 930 million euros) of testing people who are not showing coronavirus symptoms.

“It is believed that more than half of Covid-19 infections are transmitted by people who do not display symptoms and are unaware that they actually have the virus,” said a government statement.

“The federal government will now pay for persons without symptoms to be tested so that those who are particularly vulnerable can be better protected and local outbreaks of infection can be contained early on.”

UPDATE: Is Switzerland set to introduce an FFP2 mask requirement?

It said by assuming the cost burden, it hoped to be able to identify outbreaks in settings like schools and care homes sooner.

“This is particularly important in view of the fact that new, more infectious strains of the coronavirus are currently spreading in Switzerland,” the government said.

The wealthy Alpine nation of 8.6 million people has registered more than 515,000 cases during the pandemic and nearly 8,500 deaths.

The epidemiological situation is improving slowly, the government said. But it added that it remains “greatly concerned” by the number of cases of the new virus variants, which accounted for 10 percent of positive tests last week — a percentage that is doubling each week.

“No democratic and open society has found a perfect solution to fight the pandemic,” Swiss President Guy Parmelin told a press conference in the capital Bern.

Covering the costs to incentivise testing

Previously, the federal government the costs for tests were only borne out by the federal government in certain situations, such as where a person had specific symptoms or in nursing homes or hospitals. 

In some cases, the costs were borne by the cantons. 

Now, coronavirus testing will be free all across the country, with the government saying it wanted to encourage testing wherever possible. 

“In order to increase the incentive for such tests, the federal government is now assuming the costs,” the government said in a statement. 

“The tests can be carried out by the staff themselves on site and negative results of these rapid tests do not have to be reported.”

A range of new measures

In addition, the government also shortened the quarantine requirement from ten days to seven, while also requiring PCR tests for all flight arrivals. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to shorten coronavirus quarantine, require negative PCR test on all flight arrivals 

Fines for failing to wear masks of up to 200 francs have also been introduced. 

 

 

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HEALTH

Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating 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: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating 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.

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