EXPLAINED: How will Switzerland’s free coronavirus ‘self-testing’ scheme work?

Switzerland has announced a plan to give each resident five free coronavirus tests per month starting in mid-March. Here's what you need to know.

People line up outside a pharmacy offering free coronavirus testing.
Photo: Alex Halada/AFP

More up-to-date information about Switzerland’s free tests is available at the following link

From March 15th, each Swiss resident will be entitled to five free coronavirus tests per month. 

The free tests will be part of a gradual move towards reopening.

However, while the scheme is set to start within a week, the government has not yet approved the self-tests for public use. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What has the government announced? 

From March 15th, each Swiss resident will be entitled to five free coronavirus ‘self-tests’ per month. 

The government confirmed this in a press release issued on Friday, March 5th

The Swiss government said citizens are encouraged to test themselves regularly – even when they do not have symptoms – to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

What kind of tests will be provided? 

When the policy is fully implemented, it will entitle each Swiss resident to five free tests per month. 

The free tests will be so-called ‘self tests’, which can be used at home. 

However, as at March 8th, these tests have not yet been approved by the government, due primarily to uncertainties about how effective they are among people without symptoms of the virus. 

Therefore, from March 15th until whenever these tests are approved, the government will cover the costs of rapid tests in pharmacies and at all testing centres. 

When the self-tests are finally approved, each Swiss resident will be entitled to five per month. 

Will cross-border workers also be entitled to free tests? 

Yes. This was explicitly confirmed by the Swiss government in the press release. 

With free tests for everyone, why can’t Switzerland relax coronavirus measures immediately? 

The testing scheme, which is voluntary, has been developed to help Switzerland move towards a gradual relaxation of coronavirus measures. 

Switzerland will decide on March 19th whether or not further lockdown loosening can take place from March 22nd. 

However, the government has been careful to remind people that the tests are not 100 percent accurate. 

“A negative test must not lead to false security and unreasonable behaviour,” said the government’s press release. 

How much will the plan cost? 

The cost of the testing strategy is expected to be approximately CHF1 billion in 2021. 

Has this plan been put into effect anywhere else? 

Yes. Austria has adopted a similar plan since early February, with tests free at pharmacies and at a number of testing centres across the country. 

Anyone wanting to visit a hairdresser or any other ‘body hugging service’ – i.e. cosmetic services or visiting tattoo parlours – must provide evidence of a negative test in order to do so. 

The Austrian government is currently developing a plan which would allow only people who have tested negative to visit bars, restaurants and events. The plan is expected to be put in place by the end of March. 

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”