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Covid-19 test offensive starts in Switzerland

School pupils saliva test
Schools should carry out repeated tests using pooled saliva samples to improve prevention and detect outbreaks early. Keystone / Alexandra Wey

Rapid Covid self-tests should be available by April 7 in Switzerland. These will be free for everyone, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.

“We are working with the cantons and the pharmacies to make the appropriate preparations,” Health Minister Alain Berset told Swiss public radio on Saturday, noting that supplies could be short at the start, but that Switzerland is now “a week ahead of schedule”.

The self-tests will allow patients to test themselves for coronavirus with a simple swab. The test uses samples from the front part of the nose instead of the nasopharynx.

CHF1 billion

In mid-March the government, which has set aside CHF1 billion ($1.07 billion) for mass testing, announced it would cover the costs of rapid tests in all previously approved testing institutions, in addition to the approved costs for lab-based PCR tests. It said this was an important step towards further relaxation of the coronavirus measures.

Only PCR tests that are required for entry into another country will remain subject to a fee, the government saidExternal link.

As soon as the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) releases self-tests for the market, every person in Switzerland will be able to obtain five such self-tests per month free of charge from a chemist. Companies, institutions and schools are also to carry out pool tests free of charge.

With increased prevention and early detection of local outbreaks, the government wanted to support the gradual re-opening of social and economic life, it said on Friday.

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The test offensive is aimed in particular at containing any further spread of the new variants of the coronavirus. In addition, blind spots in the infection process are to be better identified.

However, the government also warned of the risks of expanding mass testing. Every test result was only a snapshot, it said. What’s more, self-tests were significantly less reliable than PCR tests. A negative test should not lead to a false sense of security and unreasonable and reckless behaviour, it said.

According to Berset, one of the aims is for around 40% of the mobile population in companies, schools and universities to be regularly tested in future. This is now possible because there is sufficient capacity in the laboratories. A year ago, this was not the case, he said.

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