Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s free coronavirus tests for every resident

Almost a month after they were initially promised, free coronavirus tests will be rolled out in Swiss pharmacies from Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know.

Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s free coronavirus tests for every resident

From Wednesday, April 7th, free coronavirus tests will be made available in Swiss pharmacies.

How many free tests can I have? 

Each resident will be entitled to five free of these ‘home tests’ each month, as part of Switzerland’s mass screening scheme.

Companies, schools and other institutions such as non-profit organisations can also carry out the tests free of charge. 

How do I get them? 

They are available at pharmacies across the country. 

In order to pick them up, you will need to present your healthcare card. 

Reader question: Do I need my health insurance card to get vaccinated in Switzerland?

How do they work – and how long do they take?

The ‘rapid tests’ use a sample from the front of the nose instead of the larynx, making them more comfortable and easy to use. 

Results are available in 15 minutes. 

How do I know I’m positive? 

While there are directions on the test in English (along with German, French and Italian), The Local Switzerland understands that the model used has two stripes. 

If the two stripes appear, the test is positive. 

How reliable are the tests? 

The tests are less reliable than the more invasive PCR tests, but still provide a good indication of positivity of someone with a large viral load. 

A large viral load means you are more likely to transmit the virus – even if you don’t have symptoms – which means that the self-tests are effective in preventing infections spreading through the community. 

What do I do if I test positive? 

If your test comes back positive, you should isolate yourself and contact the authorities in your Swiss canton to ask what to do. 

They may tell you to isolate for a longer period, or ask that you confirm the result with a PCR test. 

Why the delay? 

The tests were originally planned to be available in Swiss pharmacies from mid-March. 

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

UPDATE: Is all coronavirus testing now free in Switzerland?

The delay was due to concerns that the tests may not be accurate enough, but Swiss authorities now say they are convinced. 

Swissmedic has however warned that self-tests from abroad should not be used as they may be unreliable

Reader question: How do I show a negative Covid test result in Switzerland?

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, can’t Switzerland just relax coronavirus measures immediately? 

Um, no. The testing scheme, which is voluntary, has been developed to help Switzerland move towards a gradual relaxation of coronavirus measures. 

Switzerland will decide in mid-April whether lockdown rules should be relaxed. 

READ MORE: Where can you get tested for Covid-19 in your Swiss canton for free?

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. 

In Austria, 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. 

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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?