How restaurants could reopen by March 1st in Switzerland

Federal authorities have ruled out opening restaurants before April 1st, but if a new coalition of disgruntled cantons has its way, the Swiss could be dining in by the start of March.

How restaurants could reopen by March 1st in Switzerland
Could restaurants open again in March in Switzerland? Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Please note: Switzerland announced Wednesday that shops, museums and zoos can reopen from March 1, while restaurants can open from March 22nd. Click here for more information. 

Although the Federal Council ordered restaurants to remain closed until April 1st at the earliest, several cantons are pushing to allow their restaurants to resume business earlier.

Several cantons have expressed a desire to re-open in March, including Geneva, Vaud, Graubünden, St. Gallen, Ticino, Thurgau, Lucerne, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Nidwalden, Uri and Obwalden. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s new ‘relaxed’ coronavirus measures? 

In addition to the efforts at cantonal level, a concerted push by a group of right-wing and centre-right Swiss political parties could see opening dates brought forward in Switzerland. 

A new set of negotiations is now taking place, with a decision to be made on February 24th which could see the Swiss return to restaurants sooner rather than later. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Cantons revolt in push for March openings

Immediately after Swiss health authorities announced hospitality venues would remain closed until at least April, a group of cantons gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the decision – and to push for an earlier opening of hospitality venues. 

Last week authorities in Vaud announced their wish to reopen their gastronomy sector from March 15th for lunch service and close at 6pm, at which time only take-away service would be allowed, Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper reports

St Gallen, Thurgau, Lucerne and Ticino are agitating for restaurants with terraces to be allowed to open from March 1st. 

Schwyz authorities have called for both the inside and outside of restaurants and bars to be open on the same day. 

Uri, Glarus, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden have also called for restaurants to be open in the first week of March, with the latter saying people should only be allowed to attend with evidence of a negative test. 

This scheme matches that being implemented in neighbouring Austria for hairdressers, cosmetic services and tattoo parlours. 

Others such as Zurich and Bern seem open to the idea but have not expressed a defined position on the matter. 

Indeed, as at February 24th, only Aargau has indicated it supports the federal government’s plan. 

The Federal Council is scheduled to discuss the issue with cantonal governments on February 24th, but Health Minister Alain Berset already said that early re-openings would not be a good idea.

Berset recalled that last fall restaurants were open in some cantons while closed in others, resulting in people traveling from one canton to another for the purpose of dining out.  

Another revolt – this time at a federal level

While cantonal opposition to federal measures is nothing new, the government is also facing a challenge at a federal level. 

A coalition made up of the Swiss People’s Party, Free Democratic Party and Die Mitte is seeking to wrest control from the federal government in pushing for opening of restaurants – along with bars, cultural facilities, sporting facilities and events – from March 22nd, the first day of Spring. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper reports that the right-wing and centre-right coalition appears to have the numbers to gain control of the National Council’s Health Commission – a key decision-making body with power to decide on lockdowns. 

The NZZ reports that if the power grab is successful, bars and restaurants may be allowed to open as early as February 25th – one day after the meeting between federal and cantonal authorities – although such an outcome is unlikely, with the Federal Council likely to use its emergency powers to prevent it. 

The more likely outcome is that the coalition push for a nationwide opening on March 22nd. 

Member comments

  1. They should get the vaccinations going…what is the lag in getting this done then there would not be such a question about opening restaurant! Do the not have any vaccines here….we are not a 3rd world country.

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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.