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Which Covid tests will become free in Switzerland?

The Swiss government looks set to make Covid testing free again, although exactly which tests are covered remains unclear.

Most Covid tests will not be free in Switzerland. Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP
Most Covid tests will not be free in Switzerland. Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP

On December 2nd, Switzerland’s National Council, the lower house of parliament, voted to make coronavirus tests free for everyone in Switzerland.

Now, the Council of States, the country’s upper house, voted to allow the government to provide for “exceptions to the assumption of costs” of some tests, including PCR and serological screening not ordered by the canton.

Currently, cantonal health authorities can order individuals to be tested if there is suspicion of infection or exposure to contaminated person(s), which in effect means that tests are free only for people with symptoms of the virus. 

In effect, this new proposal means there is greater leeway to the Federal Council to set exceptions as to which tests will have their costs covered. 

Which tests look set to be covered? 

This means that only antigen tests, valid for 24 hours since December 6th, as well as pooled PCR tests — individual saliva samples mixed together with others — would be free of charge.

Tests for people with Covid symptoms will also remain free.

On the other hand, you will have to pay for PCR tests needed for international travel — both going abroad and coming back to Switzerland.

READ MORE: Travel: What are Switzerland’s Covid test requirements?

It is now up to the Federal Council to decide which, if any, tests will be free and which ones will have to be paid for by the individuals.

Right now, it looks unlikely that all the tests will be cost-free.

Health Minister Alain Berset is opposed to free tests for the entire population, explaining that “this decision would limit the Federal Council and the cantons in the development of the testing strategy”.

Above all,  “the costs of individual PCR tests for asymptomatic people have never been covered by the government anyway and doing so now would add considerable costs as well as lead to an overload of the capacities of the laboratories”, he added.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s new testing rules: How much travelling abroad now costs

A decision will be made in the coming days on which tests will become free in Switzerland. 

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For members


OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.