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COVID-19 TESTS

UPDATED: Unvaccinated must pay for Covid tests in Switzerland from October

People who have not been vaccinated will be require to pay for their own Covid tests from October 1st. President Guy Parmelin said vaccinated taxpayers should not have to pay for testing for those who choose to remain unvaccinated.

UPDATED: Unvaccinated must pay for Covid tests in Switzerland from October
Will Switzerland wind back free testing for the unvaccinated? Photo: YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP

Please note: The deadline has been extended until October 10th. Click here for more info. 

In early August, the Swiss government announced that the country’s free testing scheme would come to an end by October 1st. 

Antigen tests for Covid are free in Switzerland, with the government covering the cost – even for those from abroad. 

READ MORE: How tourists and visitors in Switzerland can get a free Covid test

The decision was made in order to encourage people to be vaccinated in Switzerland. 

Anyone wanting to visit a nightclub or see a football game – or attend any other large event – will now be required to pay CHF50 for a test, unless they can prove they are vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus. 

In addition, the five ‘self tests’ which were formerly made available at pharmacies across the country will also be scrapped from October. 

The decision itself was controversial, with Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset privately against the measure. 

Switzerland ends free Covid testing: Everything you need to know

SVP National Councilor Andreas Glarner said the decision was “stupid” and amounted to “an indirect vaccination obligation”. 

There was however significant support for the decision, including Swiss President Guy Parmelin and the SVP’s Ueli Maurer. 

Parmelin said Swiss taxpayers should not have to cover the costs of tests for people who choose not to be vaccinated. 

“If I don’t get vaccinated, should the vaccinated taxpayer pay for my tests? For me the answer is clear: No.”

READ MORE: What is the risk of catching Covid and getting sick in Switzerland if you are vaccinated?

Berset said he is confident Switzerland’s vaccination program – which is currently lagging behind its neighbours and the EU average – will pick up speed when returning travellers get vaccinated. 

On a comparative basis with its neighbours, Switzerland’s Covid measures are relatively relaxed, with proof of vaccination, testing or recovery from the virus only needed at large venues, events with over 1,000 people or to go travelling. 

With tests no longer free, those who have not been vaccinated will be encouraged to do so in order to take part in many of the above activities, rather than continually paying for tests. 

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For members

COVID-19 VACCINES

Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

Even as other countries have started to administer fourth doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and the infections are on the rise again, Swiss health authorities still haven’t rolled out second boosters. This is why, and what lies ahead.

Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

As The Local reported on Tuesday, coronavirus is circulating again in Switzerland and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

In fact, over a million people in Switzerland could catch the virus this summer.

 “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.

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

Data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) indicates that the upward trend is already underway. The number of new reported cases has been soaring in the past few weeks — from below 10,000 a week in mid-April and beginning of May, to 24,704 new cases in the past seven days.

These are officially registered contaminations, but as “most of infected people will not be tested, the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler pointed out.

Although nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are more contagious but 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.

What is FOPH’s official stance on second boosters?

Health authorities are currently recommending them only for people in high-risk categories — that is, those with a very weak immune system.

“There is no need for the general public to receive an additional booster vaccination in the current situation. According to available data, people who are fully vaccinated or vaccinated and cured are still well protected against severe forms of COVID-19”, FOPH said on May 23rd.

There has been no change in strategy since then, despite the increasing infection rates.

However, authorities relented on one point: they now allow fourth doses to be administered to people whose Covid certificates have expired but who plan to travel to countries where up-to-date immunisations are required.

FOPH said these travellers can get “off-label” shots — meaning being vaccinated before the official authorisation to do so is issued — but these doses will not be free of charge.

“The price will be set by the cantons and the vaccination centres”, FOPH said, adding, however, that “second boosters for people with weakened immune systems will remain free”.

Why are Swiss health authorities dragging their feet in authorising second boosters?

As with the original vaccine rollout at the beginning of 2021, which took longer here than elsewhere, Swiss slowness may be due to the abundance of caution. For instance, drugs regulator Swissmedic “took longer than many countries to approve new vaccines”.

This time around, FOPH is taking its time to examine benefits of second boosters for general population (as opposed to at-risk groups).

Part of it may be the uncertainty prevailing over the efficacy of vaccines, which were conceived to combat the original early strains like Delta, not the variants, and sub-variants, that emerged later.

“The current vaccine does not provide clear protection against the Omicron”, according to Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of the immunology unit at Vaud university hospital (CHUV).

So when will Switzerland authorise second boosters?

Health officials said they will issue official recommendations “before the summer holidays”, which means shortly.

Two scenarios are currently  foreseen by FOPH: “It may be that an additional booster vaccination is recommended only for people over 65 and those suffering from certain chronic diseases, but it is also possible that it will be intended for the entire population”.

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

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