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covid-19 Coronavirus: the situation in Switzerland

Praying in a mosque

The re-opening of the Petit-Saconnex mosque in Geneva on June 1, after measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were relaxed. (Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

(Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Switzerland is gradually easing unprecedented Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to avoid further damage to the economy. This is where things stand and the latest on the measures in place.

  • Switzerland reported its first suspected Covid-19-related child fatality external linkon May 29. But there is still some confusion over the circumstances.
  • The country has been gradually loosening coronavirus-related restrictions. The “extraordinary situation” external linkwill be officially lifted June 19.
  • Public and private events of up to 300 people are permitted as of June 6, and gatherings of up to 30 people are allowed from May 30.
  • Restrictions on restaurants will be further lifted from June 6, and zoos, theatres, cinemas, sports events and campgrounds will also re-open on the same date. 
  • The government plans to re-open its borders with Germany, Austria and France on June 15 but is holding off on opening borders to Italy.
  • The aim is to restore freedom of movement with other Schengen zone countries by July 6. A decision on allowing non-European travellers entry into the Schengen Zone will also be made on the same date.
  • Hair stylists, physiotherapists, florists and garden/DIY stores re-opened on April 27. Additional businesses and schools re-opened on May 11. All religious services and celebrations will be permitted from May 28. 
  • Further re-openings will follow on June 8.
  • The government still urges the population to follow social distancing and hygiene recommendations. There is no obligation to wear face masks in public.

How does Switzerland plan to ease the coronavirus lockdown?

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The government approachexternal link to loosening the lockdown is based on a number of factors and expert recommendations aimed at protecting the public. The economy is also a consideration.   

graphic with timeline on easing of restrictions
(Kai Reusser / swissinfo.ch)

Smaller private and public events of up to 300 people, as well as spontaneous gatherings for groups of up to 30 people, are allowed as of June 6.  Restaurants hosting groups of four people or more must take the number of one of the parties present so that contact tracing is possible in case of a coronavirus outbreaks.

To protect staff during the phase-out of lockdown measures, employers must adapt the work environment or allow those at especially high risk to work from home. High-risk persons can refuse to work and be entitled to leave with pay.

On the political front, federal popular initiatives and referendum requests can resume on June 1. The collection of signatures in public spaces is allowed provided that protective measures are put in place.

Supermarkets and pharmacies remained open throughout the crisis. On April 27, businesses such as salons, florists and DIY shops were allowed to re-open with precautionary measures in place, such as the use of face masks.

The second phase began on May 11, when compulsory schools re-opened, as well as all shops and restaurants with tables of four or fewer. Public transport returned to the standard timetable, with the recommendation that people wear face masks at rush hour.

The government confirmed on May 27 it was planning to re-open its borders with Germany, Austria and France on June 15, if the evolution of the pandemic allows. However, it deems it too early to re-open its border with southern neighbour Italy, which plans to open all its frontiers on June 3.

+ What's happening at Swiss borders and airports

Events with more than 1,000 people – notably festivals and sporting events – will not be allowed until the end of August at the earliest. Many of Switzerland’s biggest business and cultural events have been cancelled or postponed. 

Whats the current situation in Switzerland?

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Switzerland is among the countries most affected by the pandemic in Europe, with around 30,000 cases and about 1,900 deaths. Cantons Ticino, Vaud, Geneva and Valais are the hardest hit. The rate of new coronavirus cases, however, began to slow over around mid-April, and with it the number of people admitted to hospitals.

With thousands of tests being carried out per day, Switzerland has one of the highest per-capita rates of testing in the world.  On May 29, the first Covid-related child fatality was reported, a newborn infant. 

+ The Swiss approach to testing for coronavirus

The government adopted an extended testing strategy along with a contact tracing concept as it moved to ease social distancing measures. 

However, it has decided not to impose a general obligation to wear protective face masks. Instead it recommends that people wear them when social distancing is not possible. This may include when travelling on public transport. Retail customers may also be asked to wear masks as a protective measure when visiting shops.

In addition to wearing masks when keeping a distance of two metres is not possible, the Swiss Federal Railways and the Postal Bus service recommend avoiding public transport at rush hour and to travel only when necessary.

The armed forces said they would be buying up to 100 million masks, which will be sold to retailers at purchasing price. The government has a budget of up to CHF400 million ($412 million) to provide different types of masks, but it is the responsibility of hospitals, companies and private households to ensure a stock.

The country's public health authorities continue to recommend that people work from home when possible and to follow hygiene and social distancing recommendations as the country re-opens shops, restaurants and schools.

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The government has maintained that daily supplies of medicine and food are guaranteed. Authorities, however, rationed some common painkiller and anti-fever drugs to prevent panic buying.

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Financial relief measures

In total, the government has set aside more than CHF65 billion to support the economy. On April 3 it announced it was doubling to CHF40 billion the amount of emergency loans available to 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 will be able to 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.

+ 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. In early April, almost a quarter of the Swiss working population (1.3 million people) was on short-time work, according to SECO.

On May 20 the government agreed an additional CHF14.2 billion in financing for unemployment insurance, announcing it would begin easing out extraordinary Covid-19 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, would lapse at the end of May, it said, and short-term work claims would once again need to be registered in advance.

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 hockey leagues, which could receive as much as CHF350 million to shore up the 2020-2021 season.

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer warned that the shutdown of the Swiss economy 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.

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, said Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis. Funds would also be provided to the International Monetary Fund and other international organisations helping developing countries during the crisis.

A return to border controls and entry restrictions

On March 25 the Swiss government imposed entry restrictions on residents of all Schengen and non-Schengen states. Two days later, military police officers and a militia battalion were sent to the borders to support the Federal Customs Administration.

image gallery about the corona virus

Plans to re-open borders with Germany, Austria and France by June 15 were confirmed on May 27 by the government. There are, however, no immediate plans to re-open the border with Italy, one of the epicentres of the crisis in Europe.

As part of border easing measures, on May 27 the Federal Council announced external linkthat it aims to restore free movement of people with other European Schengen zone member countries by July 6. Travel from outside the Schengen zone is still not allowed. A decision is expected to be taken on July 6 in cooperation with Schengen member states. 

For now only Swiss citizens, Swiss residents, those entering the country for professional reasons (e.g., those who work here and have a permit to prove it), and those transiting through, can enter. A first easing of the border situation was announced on April 29, taking effect from May 11. Among other measures, the immigration authorities plan to start processing certain applications for work permits and family reunification filed by late March 2020. All such applications will be processed starting June 8.

The government announced in mid-April that fines would be imposed on those who travel to neighbouring countries for cross-border shopping.

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

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The risk of contracting the new coronavirus in Switzerland is currently moderate, according to the Health Officeexternal link. The government advises against all non-urgent travel in Switzerland and abroad.

The number of cases still puts Switzerland among the most affected countries in Europe in terms of known cases; current figures from around the world can be found hereexternal link

In order to prevent and slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible, people known to be affected have been isolated. The government reintroduced a strategy of contact tracing in May.

Anyone who has been in close contact with a sick person, i.e. less than two metres away for more than 15 minutes, must also remain in quarantine for two weeks.

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.

The authorities recommend a certain amount of “social distancing” – i.e, when standing in a queue, for example, to keep a certain distance from those around you.

Recommendations for the world of work have also been issued, such as not travelling at rush hour and working from home when possible.

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

What’s the situation for Swiss citizens living abroad?

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

However, after the government requested that Swiss travellers return to the country as soon as possible, the foreign ministry urged tourists to register with a special travel appexternal link and chartered flights to repatriate stranded citizens.

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

All Swiss representations abroad remain accessible to Swiss citizens, and its helpline of the ministryexternal link 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. Further sources, which we also use and which may be useful to readers, include:

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

Timeline in Switzerland

  • February 25: Switzerland reports its first coronavirus case – a 70-year-old man tests positive in canton Ticino, in the south of the country bordering Italy. Ticino bans all public events, including the carnival parades.
  • February 27: “Social distancing” is one of the precautions called for as part of an information campaign by the Federal Office of Public Health. The Engadin Ski Marathon – scheduled for March 8 – is cancelled. The Swiss sporting scene starts shutting down.
  • February 28: The government raises the alert level to “special situation” – banning events with more than 1,000 people, including football and ice hockey championships, carnivals in Basel and Lucerne, the Geneva Motor Show and Baselworld watch fair.
  • March 5: A 74-year-old woman dies in Lausanne. She is the first confirmed coronavirus death in Switzerland.
  • March 13: Ticino is the first canton to close all schools as part of its “emergency measures”. The federal government launches an emergency aid package worth CHF10 billion ($10.3 billion) and bans public gatherings of more than 100 people. 
  • March 16: The Swiss government declares an “extraordinary situation”, instituting a ban on all private and public events and closing restaurants, bars, leisure facilities and shops apart from grocery stores and pharmacies.
  • March 19: Canton Uri orders people 65 and older to stay inside their homes. The federal government tells the canton it can’t do that.
  • March 20: The government announces a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces. It urges the public to stay home except to buy food or go to the doctor. Some city parks are shut and police begin enforcing the ban on groups of 5+.
  • March 21: The foreign ministry announces special charter flights for hundreds of Swiss citizens stranded in South America and Africa.
  • March 22: Canton Ticino orders manufacturing plants to shut down, though cantons have been warned not to unilaterally exceed the recommendations of the federal authorities.
  • March 25: The Swiss government extends entry restrictions to all Schengen states. Previously it had imposed restrictions on entry by land and by air from Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Spain, and from all non-Schengen states. 
  • March 27: Swiss cantons will be allowed to shut down industrial activities if they show a risk of spreading coronavirus. The government ruling, which comes with strict conditions, follows a decision by canton Ticino to ban certain manufacturing production.
  • March 31: A scientific taskforce is set up to advise the government and to coordinate national research by universities into coronavirus. 
  • April 16 : The Swiss government announces a three-stage easing external linkof Covid-19 restrictions.
  • April 27: The first phase of easing restrictions begins with the re-opening of certain businesses, including hair salons and garden/DIY centres.
  • May 4: Parliament begins a multi-day special session - the first meeting since parliament suspended work in mid-March.
  • May 8: The government says people over 65 and those in risk groups can now leave the house, as long as they take the necessary precautions.
  • May 11: the second phase of re-openings.
  • May 18: Just ten new confirmed cases of coronavirus are announced by Swiss authorities, and there are no new deaths or hospitalisations.
  • May 20: The Swiss government agrees an additional CHF14.2 billion in financing for unemployment insurance, announcing it will begin easing out extraordinary Covid-19 measures granting unemployment and short-term work benefits to more people. Also, it says efforts to secure enough doses of a vaccine for the nation's 8.6 million population will cost at estimated CHF300 million. All religious services and celebrations will be allowed from May 28.
  • May 27: The government relaxes coronavirus restrictions, clearing the way for private and public gatherings of up to 300 people and spontaneous gatherings of up to 30 people.
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