Cantons call for more support to track passengers from abroad

Passengers at Geneva airport, as seen in mid June Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Swiss cantons want the passenger lists of those entering the country from the 29 official “high risk” Covid-19 countries identified by the federal authorities, arguing this would help contact tracing efforts greatly.

This content was published on July 10, 2020 - 12:51
SRF/swissinfo.ch/ilj

Anyone arriving from the list of 29 countries, which was published last week, needs to go into quarantine for 10 days after entering Switzerland. Under Swiss law anyone who breaks the regulations could be liable to a fine of up to CHF10,000 ($10,668).

Some 3,000 people in the country are currently in quarantine. The cantonal authorities, who are in charge of contact tracing to track the chain of infections, check in with quarantined people to see if they are following the rules. But passenger lists would make this task a lot easier, they argue.

“We are not as yet getting information from the airports or bus companies and are relying very strongly on the individual responsibility and participation of those involved,” Lukas Engelberger, head of the cantonal conference of health directors, told Swiss public television, SRF.

But the federal authorities have said that the situation is not likely to change soon. “These lists exist, and they could be handed over. But at the moment this is not yet earmarked to become routine,” Stefan Kuster, head of infectious diseases at the Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH), told reporters in Bern on Thursday.

Data protection

Spot checks are possible, the FOPH says, but certain issues must be resolved before passenger lists can be handed over to the cantons, including data protection and logistics issues. This includes whether data can simply be handed over or whether it has to be whittled down first to only the necessary data.

Engelberger is aware of the data protection issues but points out that health considerations must prevail in these times. He hopes for a quick and practical resolution to the matter.

According to the Federal Data Protection Commissioner’s office, there would need to be a legal basis for handing over passenger lists to the cantons, and it is not yet clear whether this yet exists, and there are question marks over forwarding data from all passengers from risk countries. The office told SRF that it could foresee the federal authorities pre-selecting the information first before handing over the necessary part.

On Friday, the total confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Switzerland rose by 104.

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