Swiss impose entry ban for travellers from UK and South Africa

A general entry ban for all foreign nationals seeking to enter Switzerland from the UK to South Africa is in effect. Keystone / Ronald Wittek

The Swiss government has ordered people who entered the country from the United Kingdom and South Africa since December 14 to go into a ten-day quarantine and imposed a general entry ban for foreign nationals seeking to travel from the two countries.

This content was published on December 21, 2020 - 18:14
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The steps were taken to prevent the further spread of the new virus strain and to “stop travel from these countries for tourism purposes”, the government said in a statementExternal link on Monday.

Flights between Switzerland and the UK and South Africa were suspended from midnight on December 20 following reports of the emergence of a new fast-spreading variant of coronavirus in southeast England.

An estimated 10,000 British holidaymakers had arrived in Switzerland since December 14, but they would not necessarily have to start a ten-day quarantine from Monday, explained Patrick Mathys, head of crisis management at the Federal Office of Public Health.

If they feel healthy, they can leave quarantine ten days after their arrival. So someone who arrived in Switzerland seven days ago – and who is not showing any symptoms – must only stay in their hotel or home for another three days.

Speaking at a news conference, Mathys said 92 flights from the UK and four flights from South Africa in the period since December 14 were affected.

The government was now collecting the airlines’ passenger data which would be made available to the cantons, he said. The cantons would then have to control the quarantine.

Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin (who will become the country's new president in 2021) was one of those affected by the new quarantine requirement. He will remain in quarantine until Thursday as he returned from London on December 14 where he was on official business.

No repatriation campaign

The Swiss government said it was considering a “temporary derogation from the flight ban” for persons resident in Britain or South Africa currently staying in Switzerland so that they may return home.

“That is also the case for persons resident in Switzerland currently staying in those two countries,” it added.

The foreign ministry called on Swiss citizens in the UK and South Africa to register their trips and stays on the mobile phone app “Travel Admin”External link. This would enable them to be contacted for a possible return trip, said Hans-Peter Lenz, head of the ministry’s crisis management centre.

However, he said there would not be a repatriation campaign as in spring. The costs for the flights will therefore not be paid by the state according to Lenz.

It's not clear how many expat Swiss citizens are interested in returning to Switzerland, but the government hopes to have a first overview within the next two days.

Some 37,500 Swiss live in Britain and just under 8,500 live in South Africa. Most of them have dual nationality.

No freedom of movement

Explaining the entry ban, the government said it had decided to “withdraw freedom of movement privileges from persons resident in the UK until December 31. Persons from the UK are therefore subject to a general ban on entering Switzerland. Freedom of movement privileges for British citizens were due to expire at the end of the year anyway.”

There is no official indication how long the Swiss entry ban will remain in place. Following the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020, British nationals will officially qualify as third country nationals.

If there were no coronavirus pandemic, from January 1 British citizens would normally be allowed to enter Switzerland as third country nationals with a valid six-month passport and stay in Switzerland and the Schengen area for a maximum total of 90 days over a 180 day period. 

No cases so far

The Swiss authorities say that so far no cases of the new Covid-19 strain have been identified in Switzerland.

The government’s Covid task force considers the new variant of the coronavirus to be “highly problematic”. Switzerland is in a risk zone with a health system at the limit of its capacity, it said on Sunday. It pointed out that there are also seasonal factors such as increased mobility during the holiday season, winter sports and greater time spent indoors.

Other countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Israel and Canada have shut off travel ties after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was a danger to the country.

Johnson will chair an emergency response meeting on Monday to discuss international travel, in particular the flow of freight in and out of Britain. EU officials are due to hold a meeting on Monday on coordinating their response.

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