Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Masks are now compulsory across Switzerland in public indoor spaces including theatres, cinemas, shops, shopping centres, banks, post offices and museums. Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

The daily number of new coronavirus cases across Switzerland reached a peak of more than 3,500 in mid-October, prompting the government to impose countrywide restrictions in a bid to limit the surge. 

This content was published on October 19, 2020 - 15:47
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  • New restrictions, including mask-wearing in all enclosed public spaces, come into force across Switzerland on October 19, as authorities try to rein in a rapidly deteriorating public health situation.
  • Other measures might vary from region to region as the 26 cantons have autonomy on health matters.  
  • The number of new positive cases has increased in recent weeks. On the weekend of October 17-18, the authorities reported 8,737 new coronavirus infections in three days..
  • Travel is possible between Switzerland and the European Union, EFTA countries and the UK. 
  • Citizens and residents of non-Schengen countries, including the US, can enter Switzerland only in exceptional cases. A list of non-Schengen countries not affected by this ban can be found here. Citizens and residents of Switzerland may always enter Switzerland.
  • Those who come to Switzerland from "high-risk" countries and regions must undergo a ten-day quarantine or face a fine. The list of countries and regions deemed high-risk is updated regularly by the authorities.

What’s the current situation in Switzerland?

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New cases of Covid-19 are increasing "exponentially", according to President Simonetta Sommaruga. Some 83,000 people have tested positive for the virus and more than 1,800 have died in Switzerland, which has a population of 8.5 million. 

The lockdown and strict restrictions imposed in spring had a dramatic impact, flattening the curve and allowing the authorities to ease measures step by step. From its March peak, the number of new cases fell to around a dozen in early June, alongside a drop in hospital cases and deaths.

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But since mid-June the number of new cases has begun to creep up in different parts of the country. This is partly due to people returning from at-risk countries, but mainly due to contacts among family members, at the workplace, and at private parties.

On August 12, the government announced that events with more than 1,000 people – notably festivals and sporting events – would be allowed against starting on October 1. Cantons can issue permits after reviewing safety measures.

On October 18, the government announced a new set of national measures designed to curb the surge in new cases across the Alpine nation. These include making masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, including train stations, airports, shops, museums, restaurants, and churches. Private events should be avoided "as far as possible" and any that exceeds 15 people is subject to certain measures, including collecting contact information of guests. Spontaneous public gatherings of more than 15 people are banned.

Kai Reusser / swissinfo.ch

Telework is once again recommended. The government had ended its recommendation that people work from home wherever possible in early summer.

Prior to this new set of measures, 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 requirement 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. 

A poll on October 4 revealed that just over half of Swiss would get vaccinated if an effective vaccine existed.

While officials were initially sceptical of the benefits of face masks, 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. Since June 25, Swiss residents have also been able to download the SwissCovid smartphone app, a contact-tracing system.

On August 5, the public health authorities added pregnant women to the list of vulnerable people who are at risk of falling severely ill if they catch the virus. The list also includes people over 65 and those with certain pre-existing conditions or illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases.

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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 this year. Various research institutes and banks are predicting a recession for 2020, followed by a recovery in 2021 – if the virus situation is resolved in the coming months.

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. On April 3, it announced it had made available CHF40 billion in emergency loans for struggling companies. It has since presented a plan to offer additional loans totalling up to CHF154 million for start-up companies. Parliament has voted to approve 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.

+ Aviation industry to get nearly CHF2 billion

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.

On May 20, 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. Exceptional claims to short-term work for self-employed and people in similar situations, as well as for apprentices, lapsed at the end of May. Short-term work claims have to be registered in advance again.

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 March 25, the Swiss government imposed strict entry restrictions at its borders and airports. These are being progressively eased and adapted.

After an improvement in the coronavirus situation, on June 15 the government allowed travel between Switzerland and all Schengen states and the United Kingdom. Since August 29, all travellers from Switzerland entering the UK have had to self-isolate for 14 days.

Some Swiss cantons have been singled out as high-risk by other countries. For example, Germany has red-listed ten of Switzerland's 26 cantons and 14 are on Belgium's list, while other several other cantons demand "increased vigilance".

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 here, 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. 

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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 list 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 here (French and German).

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

Swiss International Air Lines has significantly reduced its flight schedule. Check on the SWISS website 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. The government reintroduced a strategy of contact tracing in May. This means that anyone in Switzerland who has been in close contact (less than 1.5 metres away for more than 15 minutes without any form of protection) with someone who has been confirmed in a laboratory test to have coronavirus must also remain at home in quarantine for ten days.

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 health office announced in early March.

Masks have been compulsory on all public transport since July 6.

The authorities advise everyone to continue to observe the applicable rules on hygiene and social distancing 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, Swiss nationals living abroad cannot claim the right to an organised departure from a crisis area. 

In March, 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 app and provided chartered flights to repatriate stranded citizens.

The result was the biggest-ever repatriation operation of Swiss nationals. Nearly 7,000 people, including some 4,000 Swiss nationals, were repatriated on over 30 flights arranged by the Swiss authorities. Most Swiss tourists stranded abroad have since managed to return to the country, according to the foreign ministry.

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

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 Migration: 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 ministry: 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): live updates of the national situation, as well as recommendations, public safety measures, and details of upcoming announcements.

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

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

Follow SWI swissinfo.ch here, on Facebook, and on Twitter for timely updates on the situation in Switzerland.

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