At its meeting on 27 January, the Federal Council took a range of decisions to further contain and overcome the coronavirus pandemic. The federal government will now pay for persons without symptoms to be tested so that those who are particularly vulnerable can be better protected and local outbreaks of infection can be contained early on. The quarantine rules have also been modified: with a negative test result a person may now come out of quarantine after seven rather than the full ten days. The Federal Council has also decided that fines can be imposed if certain measures are not respected. Furthermore, the federal government will now cover the cost of pharmacies carrying out vaccinations.
It is believed that more than half of COVID-19 infections are transmitted by people who do not display symptoms and are unaware that they actually have the virus. The federal government has therefore permitted the testing of asymptomatic persons from mid-December as a further precautionary measure, e.g. in care homes, hotels and in the workplace. It will now assume the costs in order to encourage such institutions to conduct rapid tests, and this can be done by their own staff. Negative test results do not have to be reported; if a person tests positive to a rapid test, they must undergo a PCR test and the result must be reported.
By extending the testing strategy, the government hopes that local outbreaks of the virus, for example in schools, can be identified and contained at an early stage. This is particularly important in view of the fact that new, more infectious strains of the coronavirus are currently spreading in Switzerland. In such cases, the federal government will now also assume the cost of testing people who do not display symptoms. The local canton must present a test plan to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) containing details of where testing will take place, who will be tested, how often and the type of test to be used.
The FOPH testing criteria are to be amended accordingly. The extended testing strategy requires an amendment to COVID-19 Ordinance 3, which enters into force tomorrow, Thursday 28th January.
Quarantine rules modified
The current quarantine rules are to be adapted to include a test-and-release strategy. Until now anyone who has come into contact with an infected person has had to go into quarantine for ten days. Under the new rules, a person may leave quarantine after seven days if after this time they have a negative result from an antigen rapid test or a PCR test (molecular biological analysis), and are authorised to do so by the local cantonal authorities. The person must pay for the test themselves and must wear a mask and continue to socially distance until the full ten days’ quarantine is over, unless they remain at home (or in the place they are quarantining - holiday apartment, hotel etc.). If their test result is positive, they must isolate immediately.
Reduced travel quarantine
The new test-and-release strategy also applies to persons arriving in Switzerland from a country or region with a high risk of infection. On arrival, these travellers must present valid proof of a negative PCR test result that is no more than 72 hours old. They then have to quarantine for ten days; they can leave quarantine after seven days if they again test negative (antigen rapid test or PCR test). All persons arriving by air even from a country that is not considered high risk must be able to show a negative PCR test result before boarding the plane.
Fixed penalties: breaking the rules is an offence
From 1 February anyone contravening the measures to fight the epidemic will be committing an offence; persons who fail to comply with the rules may be fined between 50 and 200 francs, depending on the offence. For example, anyone who does not wear a mask on public transport, in stations, at a bus or tram stop or in and immediately outside publicly accessible buildings may be fined. A fixed penalty may also be issued to persons attending banned events or holding an unpermitted private event. It is hoped that the threat of being issued with an immediate and rapid fixed penalty will encourage people to respect the rules and that this system will reduce pressure on the courts.
Federal government to cover cost of vaccinations in pharmacies
From 1 February the federal government will also assume the cost of vaccinations carried out by pharmacists, on the same conditions as in vaccination centres. This means that the cantons can include pharmacies in their vaccination programmes.
Testing of FFP masks
FFP masks in federal or cantonal stocks that may not meet safety standards are to be retested; if they are found not to be up to standard, they may no longer be used. Today the Federal Council amended COVID-19 Ordinance 3 to reflect this new requirement. At the beginning of the pandemic, large numbers of FFP masks were purchased to equip health workers, and some of these masks may not meet the required safety standards.
Slow decline in case numbers
The epidemiological situation in Switzerland is improving only slowly; there is just a slight decline in the number of new infections. The drop in the number of hospitalisations and deaths is clearer. However, the pressure on intensive care units remains high. The number of cases of the new virus strains continues to double each week. The Federal Council is greatly concerned by this trend; its objective remains to achieve a clear and rapid drop in case numbers.
Compensation for creative artists
The Federal Council also decided today to call on Parliament to grant compensation for loss of earnings to creative artists retroactively to 1 November 2020. This will close a loophole in the support measures on offer. Creative artists can apply for compensation as soon as the cantons, which are responsible for making the payments, have adapted their legislation accordingly.
The Federal Council
General Secretariat FDHA