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Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

In several Swiss cantons, schoolchildren from the age of ten must wear a mask because of the coronavirus pandemic. Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

The level of infections remains high. Vaccinations are underway across the country. The Swiss government imposed another raft of national measures in mid-January to curb the spread of the virus, amid more contagious virus strains. 

This content was published on January 22, 2021 - 10:07
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  • It was reported on January 22, that 169,783 people in Switzerland had received a vaccination shot against Covid-19 since the end of December. The plan is to vaccinate six million people by summer.
  • After Pfizer/BioNTech in December, health regulator Swissmedic gave the green light in January for the immediate use of a second vaccine produced by US company Moderna. The authorities have reserved about 15.8 million vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. 
  • The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said on January 19 that there continues to be a slight decrease in the overall number of infections, but the situation remains worrying. The average reproduction “R-rate” stands at 0.81. Hospitalisations and deaths have decreased slightly. Around 72% of intensive care beds are occupied. The FOPH is especially worried by the spread of the new virus variants from the UK and South Africa (388 cases).
  • On January 15, the government announced the closure of non-essential shops and mandatory teleworking as well as the extension to the end of February of restaurant and sports facilities closures in a move to drastically reduce infections. The new measures come into effect from January 18. Private gatherings are limited to five people. Where teleworking is not possible, masks must be worn at the workplace, even if social distance is respected.
  • More than 8,300 people have died in connection with Covid-19 in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.6 million.
  • Travel is mostly possible between Switzerland and the European Union and EFTA countries. Citizens and residents of non-Schengen countries can enter Switzerland only in exceptional cases. A list of non-Schengen countries not affected by this ban can be found hereExternal link. Citizens and residents of Switzerland may always enter. Those who come to Switzerland from "high-risk" countries and regionsExternal link must undergo a ten-day quarantine or face a fine.
  • The Swiss government has increased its compensation fund for hard-hit companies by CHF1.5 billion ($1.69 billion) to CHF2.5 billion.
  • The complete updated data on the pandemic can be found via the "Coronavirus: the latest numbers" link or article below.
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What’s the current situation?

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New daily cases of Covid-19 increased sharply in October, topping 10,000 at the beginning of November. New national and regional measures managed to bring the numbers down. But the country continues to face a persistently high level of Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Since January 4 (vaccinations began in late December), the government has started to roll out its vaccination planExternal link. The government has set an ambitious target: to inoculate six million people or 70% of the population - on a voluntary basis - by summer, or up to 70,000 vaccine shots per day.

The government wants all elderly residents of old people’s homes to get a jab by the end of January. Anyone over 75 and the most vulnerable should get a shot by the end of February, followed by 70% of over-65s by the end of March. The rest of the population should then follow.

Vaccines will be offered in hospitals, clinics, regional vaccination centres, by mobile teams and in doctor’s practices. Pharmacies have also offered their services.

The authorities have reserved about 15.8 million vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. So far, there are two vaccines available in Switzerland, those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Others should follow.

Kai Reusser / swissinfo.ch

A survey conducted on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation in January found that 41% of people surveyed said they would be willing to get vaccinated immediately.

Latest measures

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As of January 18, the government has imposed a new partial lockdown. Non-essential shops are to close and teleworking becomes mandatory. Private gatherings are limited to five people.

Switzerland closed restaurants and barsExternal link starting from December 22, while ski areas could remain open. Sports and leisure centres, as well as libraries, museums and other cultural institutions were also closed. These measures have been extended to the end of February.

Cantons which had a reproduction rate number under 1 or a seven-day case average that was under the Swiss average were able to relax certain measures. However, from January 9, all cantons were ordered to impose the same restrictions.  

Kai Reusser / swissinfo.ch

Masks and testing

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Passengers on Swiss public transport have been obliged to wear face masks since July 6 and on flights since August 15. On public transport, the mask requirementExternal link  applies to everyone aged 12 or older travelling on trains, trams and buses, mountain railways, cable cars and on ships. Federal Railways conductors can ask anyone not wearing a mask to leave the train and anyone refusing will be fined. 

Face masks must be worn on all ski installations, including chair lifts and drag lifts. Winter sports enthusiasts must also wear a face mask not only in closed waiting rooms but also when queuing outside.

The government  has put aside a budget of up to CHF400 million to provide different types of masks. It remains the responsibility of hospitals, companies and private households to ensure own stocks.

The government adopted an extended testing strategy along with a contact-tracing concept as it moved to ease social distancing measures. Swiss residents can download the SwissCovid smartphone app, a contact-tracing system.

The list of vulnerable people at risk of falling severely ill if they catch the virus includes people over 65 and those with certain pre-existing conditions or illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. It also includes pregnant women.

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Financial consequences

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Finance Minister Ueli Maurer warned that the shutdown and bailout packages could result in a deficit of up to CHF40 billion in 2020. 

In total, the government has set aside more than CHF65 billion to support the economy, as a large part of economic activity in the country came to a temporary standstill, including CHF40 billion in emergency loans for struggling companies. It has also presented a plan to offer additional loans totalling up to CHF154 million for start-up companies. Parliament approved the multi-billion franc bailout package. 

The promised economic package provides relief for companies with liquidity problems to obtain transitional bank loans. Companies hit by the crisis can defer payment of social insurance contributions temporarily and without interest. These measures also apply to self-employed persons whose turnover has fallen.

The government is also throwing a lifeline to businesses threatened by bankruptcy. Firms can delay declaring their financial difficulties to the courts, with smaller companies being given at least a three-month grace period to pay off their debts.

The pandemic has taken a greater toll on Swiss women than men when balancing professional and personal responsibilities.

There is also money to cover the imposition of short-time work at firms while other funds have been set aside for hardship loans and to support specific sectors such as event management. Partial unemployment claims have increased sharply due to the pandemic and are expected to continue to rise. On September 1 the period allowed for placing employees on short-time work increased from 12 months to 18 months.

The government agreed an additional CHF14.2 billion in financing for unemployment insurance, announcing it would begin easing out extraordinary measures granting unemployment and short-term work benefits to more people. 

On January 20 the government extended short-time work support to apprentices and people with fixed-term employment contracts. In addition, the statutory waiting period will be waived and the maximum period of entitlement to short-time work compensation of four accounting periods in the event of more than 85% loss of working hours will be abolished. This change is retroactive for the period from March 1, 2020, to and including March 31, 2021.

Following concerns voiced by the sports sector, the government announced it was allocating CHF500 million for sports leagues, associations and organisations in the country. Among the biggest beneficiaries are the professional football and ice hockey leagues, which could receive as much as CHF350 million to shore up the 2020-2021 season.

Switzerland announced a CHF400 million aid package to developing countries. Half of the funds would go to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross as an interest-free loan, the foreign ministry said. Funds would also be provided to the International Monetary Fund and other international organisations helping developing countries during the crisis.

What do you need to consider when staying in and travelling to Switzerland? 

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On December 20 Switzerland banned flights from the UK following reports of a new strain of coronavirus.

The Swiss government imposed strict entry restrictions at its borders and airports from the beginning of the pandemic. 

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, those travelling to Switzerland from a high-risk country or transiting through a high-risk country are not allowed to enter. Exceptions to this rule can be found hereExternal link, under “Who is not affected by the ban on entry to Switzerland” and “What constitutes a case of special necessity”. What matters is not the nationality but where the person is coming from. 

Anyone who travels to Switzerland from one of a number of "high-risk" countries according to a list maintained by the Federal Office of Public Health must be quarantined for ten days or face a fine of up to CHF10,000. Once they have entered Switzerland, travellers must register with the cantonal authorities. The listExternal link of countries is updated regularly. Those affected will be notified during the flight, on board coaches and at border crossings. Airlines and travel companies will also be instructed not to transport sick passengers. Full information about entering Switzerland and quarantine rules can be found hereExternal link (French and German).

Swiss travellers are advised to check entry conditions in other countries. The foreign ministry advises residents to avoid unnecessary international travelExternal link

Swiss International Air Lines has significantly reduced its flight schedule. Check on the SWISS websiteExternal link for details. 

In order to prevent and slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible, people known to be affected have been isolated in Switzerland. Those worried about a possible infection are advised to phone the doctor’s office first, rather than showing up in person. The cost of a test (CHF180) will be reimbursed by basic health insurance. 

The authorities advise everyone to continue to observe the applicable rules on hygiene and social distancingExternal link in Switzerland. At public establishments such as restaurants, shops and museums, you must follow the rules set out in the applicable set of precautionary measures. This information will be provided on the premises.

What’s the situation for Swiss citizens living abroad?

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Under the Swiss Abroad Act, External linkSwiss nationals living abroad cannot claim the right to an organised departure from a crisis area. 

At the start of the pandemic, the government advised Swiss travellers who are only temporarily overseas to return to the country as soon as possible. It urged tourists to register with a special travel appExternal link and provided chartered flights to repatriate stranded citizens. The result was the biggest-ever repatriation operation of Swiss nationals. 

All Swiss representations abroad remain accessible to Swiss citizens, and its helpline of the ministry is operationalExternal link

Where can I find further information on the implications of Covid-19?

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swissinfo.ch is keeping this story updated daily with numbers of confirmed cases and deaths, as well as any new significant measures taken by the cantonal and federal authorities.

Unfortunately, we cannot research and answer individual questions. Please check the following official federal websites for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Infoline for people travelling to Switzerland: +41 58 464 44 88 (6am–11pm)

The State Secretariat for MigrationExternal link: updated information on the situation at Swiss borders, with a helpline to answer questions about reasons for the refusal of entry into Switzerland and exceptions.

The Swiss foreign ministryExternal link: information in French, German and Italian about the situation regarding foreign travel and the steps to be followed by Swiss citizens going abroad. 

The Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH)External link: live updates of the national situation, as well as recommendations, public safety measures, and details of upcoming announcements.

The World Health Organization (WHO)External link: information on the origins and nature of Covid-19, as well as the global situation and travel advice.

Johns Hopkins UniversityExternal link: a global map that tracks the number of cases and fatalities by country.

Follow SWI swissinfo.ch hereExternal link, on FacebookExternal link, and on TwitterExternal link for timely updates on the situation in Switzerland.

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