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EXPLAINED: How long will Switzerland keep the Covid certificate in place?

Switzerland's Covid certificate is required to access all indoor venues in Switzerland - but for how long?

EXPLAINED: How long will Switzerland keep the Covid certificate in place?
Berset and the Health Ministry are not yet ready to lift the certificate obligation. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

When announcing the extension of the certificate at a press conference on September 8th, Health Minister Alain Berset said the obligation would be in place until at least January 24th, 2022. 

He did however say it could be lifted before January if the epidemiological situation allows it.

What conditions must be met for the Federal Council to take this step?

On September 22nd, the National Social Security and Public Health Commission (CSSS) asked the Federal Council to define the criteria for lifting the certificate obligation.

In its response, the government outlined three key benchmarks, as reported by the Swiss media.

1. More people must be vaccinated

The Federal Council is waiting to see whether the rate of inoculations goes up in the coming weeks.

Switzerland still trails behind much of Europe in terms of vaccination coverage, with about 58 percent of the population fully vaccinated versus more than 60 percent throughout the EU.

“The more people decide to get vaccinated, the lower the risk of overloading the health care system”, the government noted.

2. Fewer hospital admissions, shorter length of stay

The overload of intensive care units has been one of the primary concerns of federal authorities, especially as the number of ICU beds in Swiss hospitals is shrinking and there is shortage of qualified staff.

The situation is all the more complicated by the fact that patients in intensive care units are increasingly young.

“These people are treated for a long time, so it takes longer for the situation in hospitals to improve”, the Federal Council said. 

READ MORE: Vaccinations to hospital numbers: How the Covid situation is evolving in Switzerland

3. The weather factor

While the overall epidemiological situation in Switzerland is improving, the virus is still actively circulating among the population, according to Patrick Mathys, head of the crisis management section of the Federal Office of Public Health, who pointed out that the number of cases could go up again as colder weather drives more people indoors.

A similar situation happened in September 2020, when numbers declined before increasing sharply again, leading to a new wave in the fall and winter.

“The winter months are fast approaching and the situation could get worse again”, Mathys warned.

In short, if these various arguments are added together, the lifting of the certificate obligation is not yet on the Federal Council’s agenda.

READ MORE: Covid-19 in Switzerland: The situation is improving, but will it last?

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Reader question: Which Swiss cantons will keep the Covid certificate in place?

Several Swiss cantons have expressed a desire to keep the Covid certificate in place. What does that mean for the relaxation of Covid measures?

Reader question: Which Swiss cantons will keep the Covid certificate in place?

On Wednesday February 16th, Switzerland announced an imminent relaxation of almost all Covid measures. 

The decision was made after a two-week consultation with Switzerland’s cantons to decide the way forward out of the pandemic. 

The government announced that almost all Covid measures are being relaxed from Thursday, February 17th.

Covid certificates – which show someone has been vaccinated, recovered or in some cases has tested negative – will no longer be required in restaurants, cinemas or at events.

Masks will no longer be required in shops, supermarkets and the workplace, while they will continue to be required in public transport for the meantime. 

More information about the relaxed measures can be found at the following link. 

UPDATE: Switzerland to scrap Covid certificate and most mask rules

What does this mean at a cantonal level? 

While the federal government no longer requires Covid certificates, they can however be required by the cantons, under the new framework.

Swiss media has previously reported that several cantons want to keep the certificate in place.

READ MORE: Swiss cantons divided on ending Covid measures

During the consultation period, several cantons expressed reservations about completely removing the certificate requirement. 

The small, centralised and predominantly German-speaking cantons of central Switzerland — Zug, Schwyz, Uri, Nidwalden, Obwalden and Glarus —  were in the greatest hurry to return to pre-Covid rules.

These cantons argued that a gradual lifting would be too complicated and difficult for the population to understand.

The southwestern canton of Valais preferred this approach as well, but only “as long as the number of cases and hospitalisations continue to decrease by mid-February”. Otherwise, the lifting of the measures should be done in stages.

However, Geneva, Basel-City, Neuchâtel and Jura said it was too early to lift remaining measures.

“It is too risky at the moment, given the still high load in hospitals”, according to Basel-City, which added that “the effects of the first relaxations, such as teleworking and quarantines, are also not yet known”.

Will some cantons still require a Covid certificate?

Berset clarified on Wednesday that while some cantons had argued for this as part of the consultation process (i.e. on a federal level), they would most likely not unilaterally keep the certificate rule in place from February 17th onwards. 

Berset however said he would need to clarify the matter with cantonal representatives and did not rule out some cantons deciding to keep the certificate in place in some instances – for example in relation to nightclubs or large events.

As at Wednesday afternoon, no cantons have indicated they will keep the certificate requirement in place.