UPDATE: Is all coronavirus testing now free in Switzerland?

Starting on Monday March 15th, each Swiss resident is entitled to five free self-tests per month. But is this really happening?

UPDATE: Is all coronavirus testing now free in Switzerland?
More tests are now given for free. Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP

On March 5th, Switzerland’s Federal Council announced everyone would receive five free tests per month. 

The Swiss government promised to “assume the cost of all tests from March 15th”, it said in a statement

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

The new strategy focuses on three types of screenings: testing of symptomatic people; frequent and large-scale testing in schools, companies and institutions; and self-diagnostic tests, aimed at reducing transmissions in the circle of personal acquaintances.

Until now, the government paid only for tests carried out on those with symptoms, as well as asymptomatic people in care homes and schools.

‘Five self-tests per month’

One of the strategies of free testing, focusing on curbing the spread of infections and preventing new outbreaks, is that each Swiss resident will be entitled to five free coronavirus ‘self-tests’ per month. 

These tests were delayed for weeks due to “ongoing validation work”. They were eventually approved on March 31st – and will be available from April 7th onwards. 

READ MORE: Roche self-tests to be rolled out in Swiss pharmacies from April 7th

In addition to using the free tests, asymptomatic people can now be screened for free in testing centres.

As was the case previously, anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus, or who has been notified by SwissCovid app that they have been in contact with infected person, can have the test for free.

But in such cases, you will be required to remain in isolation at home until a negative result is received.

You also won’t have to pay if cantonal health office or your doctor orders you to have a test as part of an outbreak investigation, if you are called in for a test by medical authorities to prevent a large-scale outbreak — for example in schools, ski areas, in certain regions, etc. — or you have a test to protect vulnerable people in hospitals or care homes. In this case you will be invited for a test directly by the establishment in question.

However, if you need a negative test result to travel or to come out of quarantine early, you will have to pay for it yourself.

Once self-kits become available, new measures will be in place.

For instance, if you test positive, you will have to get a PCR test to confirm this result.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How does Switzerland’s mass testing scheme work?

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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.