Will Switzerland make Covid testing free once more?

A return to free nationwide Covid testing looks likely, less than two months after Switzerland phased out free Covid testing.

A sign says 'free antigen tests' in Berlin
A sign in Berlin, Germany, says "free antigen tests". Will Switzerland make testing free? Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Switzerland’s National Council, the country’s house of representatives, on Thursday approved a proposal to again make Covid testing free. 

The proposal, initially put forward by the Greens, won a clear majority in the National Council. 

The proposal will now go to the Council of States, Switzerland’s 46-member senate, for approval. 

Switzerland’s Social Democrats said the tests “tests could be free again as early as next week.”

The government phased out free testing on October 11th, in a bid to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

Switzerland ends free Covid testing: Everything you need to know

However, with Covid case rates again skyrocketing in Switzerland – the country hit its highest ever one-day case total on Wednesday – and intensive care beds dwindling, testing may once again be made free for everyone. 

‘No more ICU beds’ in Zurich as Switzerland hits all-time Covid case record

In addition to free testing, the proposal also requires that those who are tested in schools, at work or in nursing homes to get an extension to their Covid certificates when they test negative. 

Will the Council of States approve the measure? 

The only opposition in the National Council to the measure came from the FDP and the GLP, who said people should cover the costs of tests themselves. 

The FDP complained about the high costs of the tests, while the GLP said people who had decided not to be vaccinated shouldn’t then have access to free testing

“Anyone who does not want to be vaccinated for subjective reasons should also pay for tests.”

The SVP said that new measures which had been forecast – including requiring vaccinated people to also show a negative test to access certain events – meant that the state should again cover the costs of testing. 

“Because of the planned expansion of compulsory testing to vaccinated people, it makes sense to introduce free tests,” said SVP state councillor Hannes Germann

Under Switzerland’s Covid certificate rules, only people who have been vaccinated, recovered from the virus or who have tested negative are allowed to visit bars, restaurants and other events. 

With testing costing up to CHF40 and CHF50 per test, making people pay their own was a way to encourage vaccination. 

READ MORE: How much do Covid tests now cost in Switzerland?

The costs of the tests were so high that some Swiss residents were crossing the border in order to get a cheaper test. 

However, testing is also an important way of cutting infection chains before they spiral out of control, as well as determining the how prevalent the virus is in the community. 

While the number of tests carried out each day differs, Switzerland’s decision to phase out free testing has meant a lot fewer tests are currently being done. 

For instance, on November 11th Austria tested more than 725,000 people, whereas Switzerland tested just 40,129, making it harder for authorities to see the true nature of the virus in the community. 

READ MORE: Why is German-speaking Europe lagging on Covid vaccines?

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Most PCR tests no longer free in Switzerland

As the quarantine obligation for contact persons was lifted from Thursday, Swiss government will continue to cover only a limited number of tests.

Only certain people, like elderly care home residents, will continue to have free PCR tests. Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG/ AFP
Only certain people, like elderly care home residents, will continue to have free PCR tests. Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG/ AFP

Before the new rule went into effect Wednesday at midnight, the government paid for PCR screening for contact persons — those who live with or had “regular and close” contact with someone who tested positive. 

Under the previous framework, anyone who had close contact with a Covid-positive person was required to isolate for five days. 

But since these contacts are no longer required to quarantine, their PCR tests are not covered.

However, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), there are a range of exceptions.

The government will continue to pay costs of screening for certain groups of people, including those living in elderly care facilities, hospital patients and healthcare workers, as well as people who are at a particularly high risk, such as those undergoing chemotherapy.

All the others will have to pay for their tests themselves; prices for PCR tests range from 110 to 195 francs, depending on the screening location and rapidity of results.

The Federal Council announced the lifting of contact quarantine on February  2nd, along with the end of the home-working obligation.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Swiss to end quarantine and working from home obligation from Wednesday

Other measures, like the Covid certificate requirement and restrictions on private meetings, could be scrapped from February 17th, provided Switzerland’s  epidemiological situation allows it.