Health and prevention

Coronavirus in Switzerland – FAQs

NEWS
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Source: iStock.com / Kira-Yan

Coronavirus arrived in Switzerland on 25 February, when the first case of an infected person was confirmed. Since then, a series of measures have been taken in a bid to contain this new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.

FAQs: health insurance

If I have coronavirus, do I absolutely have to go to the hospital or can I place myself in quarantine at home?

Anyone experiencing symptoms of the COVID-19 illness such as tiredness, fever and a dry cough should stay at home and call their family doctor or telemedicine centre. If an infection with coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is suspected, you will need to be tested. If the lab confirms a case of infection, the infected person will be isolated in accordance with the regulations of their cantonal medical service. In otherwise healthy people, an infection may cause only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In this case, it is enough to self-isolate at home for fourteen days.

Who carries the costs if I have to go to the hospital or into quarantine?

All medical treatment and any measures prescribed by a doctor are covered by basic health insurance. The usual out-of-pocket expenses (deductible and coinsurance) apply.

What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health makes a distinction between self-isolation and self-quarantine. Self-isolation is required when an affected person shows symptoms that may be due to a coronavirus infection (e.g. dry cough and fever). To prevent transmission of the virus to others, this person should remain at home – as long as their general health allows. They should remain self-isolated for 24 hours after the symptoms have resolved.

Self-quarantine is required for anyone who has been in close contact with someone infected with coronavirus and lasts for a period of five days.

In both cases, the most important rule is to avoid any type of contact with other people. The Federal Office of Public Health has issued the following guidance on self-quarantine:

One-person households

  • Family members, friends or delivery services should deliver food and other important products like medication by leaving them outside the door.

Multi-person households

  • The quarantined person should set themselves up in a room and keep the door closed at all times. They must take their meals in this room and avoid all visits and any type of contact. They may only leave the room when necessary.
  • They absolutely must wash their hands or use hand sanitizer regularly.
  • The infected person should not share household items such as glasses, cups, plates, cutlery, towels or bedding with anyone else. Any household items used by the infected person must be washed carefully in the dishwasher or washing machine.
  • Clothes, bedding and towels must be washed regularly in a washing machine.

Where does quarantine take place?

If a person falls ill, people in their immediate environment must go into quarantine – if possible at home. This means that they must stay at home for two weeks and not leave the house. Additionally, people who have been to high-risk areas can be put under quarantine to protect the rest of society from the risk of infection. People under quarantine are not allowed to go shopping. The local authorities are responsible for providing them with food.

People who do not comply with quarantine regulations can be legally prosecuted.

Who carries the cost of coronavirus testing?

The costs for determining whether someone has coronavirus are covered by basic health insurance. This was decided by the Federal Council in the Ordinance to the Epidemics Act. The coronavirus test is now on the list of diagnostic tests that are subject to mandatory insurance cover. The test costs CHF 180.

What can I do if I had to shake hands with someone and am now sick?

The Federal Office of Public Health’s behavioural recommendations do not carry the force of law, so no one can be held legally liable. It is therefore important – and not at all rude – to avoid shaking hands and to stay two metres away from others when outside your home.

Do health insurance companies now have more work to do because of coronavirus? Will it take longer for them to process claims?

Some health insurers have already informed their customers by e-mail that there may be some delays in responding to customer enquiries, as they too have to protect their employees from coronavirus. Like many other organizations, health insurance companies have now closed their offices and counters until 19 April following the Federal Council's declaration of an “extraordinary situation” and the measures imposed. However, you can still contact them by telephone or via their customer portals. Hospital invoices are always sent directly to the insurance company, while invoices for outpatient services are handled according to the billing method defined in the policy. With the “tiers garant” system, the patient pays the bill and the health insurer reimburses the insured amount. With the “tiers payant” system, the health insurer pays the bill and requests the out-of-pocket share (deductible and coinsurance) from the patient.

Note also that other insurance companies such as Mobiliar and Generali have closed their offices but can be contacted via telephone hotline or Skype.

What happens if we reach a point where not all corona (and other) patients can be treated because there aren't enough intensive care beds or ventilators in the hospitals?

This would be the worst-case scenario. In this situation, doctors must decide which patients have the best chances of survival. It's not just the age of the patient that’s taken into account, it's also their general health and the presence of any other health conditions. Personal responsibility is just as important here as it is for taking the recommended precautions. In this case, an advance directive can prevent doctors from taking action in consultation with family members that you as a patient may not want. If you do not want to receive artificial respiration, you should clearly stipulate this in your advance directive.

Is there such a thing as coronavirus insurance?

This type of insurance is usually a scam (in German only). Medical treatment is covered by mandatory basic health insurance, minus out-of-pocket expenses (deductible and coinsurance). If you plan to take out some other kind of policy that supposedly covers coronavirus, you should check the general conditions of insurance. As a rule, current claims are usually excluded for new policyholders.

Am I already insured against coronavirus even though I haven’t yet received the policy?

If you plan to take out some other kind of policy that supposedly covers coronavirus, you should check the general conditions of insurance. As a rule, current claims are usually excluded for new policyholders. Mandatory basic health insurance is the only insurance that covers all the obligatory medical services stipulated in the Health Insurance Act (KVG/LAMal) from the time the policy is taken out, without a waiting period.

FAQs: employment

This section deals with questions relating to employment conditions. For specific questions about continuation of salary payments and the costs associated with a company's loss of earnings, see our related article.

Can I stay at home if I think I have coronavirus?

If you stay at home from work just because you fear getting infected, you will lose your right to continued wage payment and may even be fired without notice. The only exception is if your employer ignores hygiene regulations or does not provide adequate protection to staff as is required in a pandemic situation.

However, if you notice symptoms of the COVID-19 illness such as tiredness, fever and a dry cough, you should stay at home and call your family doctor or telemedicine centre. If an infection with coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is suspected, you will need to be tested. If the lab confirms a case of infection, you will be isolated in accordance with the regulations of their cantonal medical service.

How should my employer protect me?

The Federal Office of Public Health has issued the following guidelines to employers:

  • Employers should ensure that all employees are able to carry out personal hygiene measures such as regularly washing their hands.
  • If possible, employees should keep their distance from one another as much as possible. This can be made possible by rearranging the working space, working remotely, using teleconferencing or videoconferencing, or by distributing employees across different sites.
  • Employers should only ask for a doctor’s note starting on the employee’s fifth day of illness.
  • Employers should regularly inform employees about the current situation and what precautionary measures are being taken. Employers should also instruct employees not to take public transportation during peak times and allow flexible working hours as far as possible.
  • Both employers and employees should adhere to the recommendations of the Federal Office of Public Health.

Do I have a right to work from home?

Generally speaking, you are not allowed to switch to remote working merely because you fear getting an infection. The best approach is to talk to your employer about whether you are permitted to work from home. There are different rules depending on the company. Some employers are giving their staff the option of working from home due to the current precautionary measures. Employers may also mandate home office working arrangements if they provide the necessary equipment and access. These rules must be adhered to.

Can my boss send me home against my will?

In special circumstances – e.g. during the current pandemic – employers are entitled to expect flexibility from their employees for a limited time. That means that yes your employer may change your place of work or require that you work from home. If you suspect that you may be infected with coronavirus, you are not entitled to continue working, but you are entitled to continue receiving your wages.

Can I refuse to go on a business trip to a high-risk area?

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Council advise you to avoid trips abroad. Swiss residents travelling abroad are advised to return home if possible.

If you have to be quarantined after a business trip, you will continue to receive wages.

I requested time-off for a holiday from my employer well before the outbreak of coronavirus and it was approved. It is now not possible to travel. Can I reverse my holiday request or can my employer force me to take this holiday?

It’s is usually the employers who determine when you can take time off for a holiday, but they must take employee wishes into consideration. Employees also have a right to an early allocation of holiday time. Postponing holiday that has already been approved is justified for serious reasons. The stay-at-home order should be classed as a serious reason. It is currently legal for employers to arrange for employees to take holiday as an alternative to short-time work at short notice. Employees who take holiday during a period of short-time work will receive 100% of their salary. In this climate of crisis, it is highly recommended that you reach an amicable solution: many employers are now fighting to save jobs.

Can a board of directors cancel the annual general meeting?

Each board of directors is required to put coronavirus on the meeting’s agenda, take minutes and draw up a pandemic plan. If there is no pandemic plan, the board of directors is liable under both civil and criminal law.

The annual general meeting should not simply be cancelled. It can be postponed and should take place within six months of the closing of the fiscal year. The invitation can include a disclaimer that the meeting may be postponed and that people who were in high-risk areas or who show symptoms should not attend. Hand sanitizer should be made available at the entrance.

If the annual general meeting does not take place, dividends cannot be paid out and elections cannot take place.

FAQs: travel and events

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, I would like to cancel a trip I've booked. Is that possible?

If you have taken out cancellation expenses insurance, you can cancel your trip without losing money. However, the insurance must cover pandemics or epidemics. You are also usually covered if the government has issued a travel warning for the region you were planning to visit. Here is a list of current travel warnings. Another reason is if you cannot go to the resort you have booked because it has been closed, for instance. In this case, the travel agency must reimburse the costs, arrange to postpone the trip or offer an alternative. Of course, you can simply cancel just because you are worried, but you won’t get any money back.

What should I bear in mind if I am planning a trip or wish to book one now?

Given the level of uncertainty as to how the situation will develop, it’s advisable to delay travel plans wherever possible. If you wish to go ahead and book anyway, you should choose a package holiday if you can. You have better legal protection with this kind of trip thanks to the Federal Act on Package Travel. If you do not yet have any cancellation expenses insurance, you can consider taking out the travel insurance usually offered by the travel agent or tour operator. But don't forget to check the small print to make sure pandemics and epidemics are covered.

I have tickets for an event that is now not taking place because of the virus. Can I get the price of the ticket reimbursed?

“Travel insurance” may cover the refund of event tickets up to a price of 500 francs, even if they are not part of an overall travel arrangement. In addition, many event organizers have announced that they are trying to find alternative dates.

You are advised to contact your insurance provider directly for more information. You can also ask the organizer whether it is possible to get a refund for the cost of the ticket.

If your ticket is not refunded, you can contact the consumer protection agency at info@konsumentenschutz.ch, mentioning “ticket refund”.

I took out ticket insurance for three francs when I purchased the ticket. Does this cover the cost of the ticket if the event is cancelled because of the virus?

With ticket insurance, you usually only get the ticket price refunded if you could not attend the event because you were ill (e.g. coronavirus), your bus or train was cancelled or delayed or you had an accident or a breakdown on the way. According to the insurance conditions, if the event was cancelled because of the event ban by the government, the ticket price cannot be refunded.

FAQs: property and moving home

Comparis answers your questions about whether and how to move home during the coronavirus crisis in this article on the subject of property and moving home.

FAQs: mortgages

How will the crisis affect mortgage rates? How might property prices be affected in the long term? Is it worth investing in property in the current situation? Comparis has compiled some questions and answers on the subject of coronavirus and mortgages for you.

FAQs: mobility

Can I take my car to the garage for a service or to be repaired?

Yes, you can. Most garages remain open, but the showrooms are closed. Some garages, like AMAG, have put extra precautions in place, such as fitting protective covers over the steering wheel, gear stick and seats. They also arrange the handover of the vehicle and key so that there is minimal contact between the dealer and the vehicle owner. More pick-up and delivery services are also being offered.

Note: always call the garage first and arrange an appointment for the repair, to avoid waiting times at the garage.

FAQs: finances and pensions

Why is coronavirus causing massive losses on the stock markets?

The negative effects of coronavirus on the global economy are growing by the day. What makes the situation more critical is that the economy was already struggling. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) expects Switzerland to go into recession this year. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) responded at the beginning of March by reducing its global growth forecast for 2020 by half a percentage point to 2.4%. In the worst-case scenario, this may even plunge to 1.5%, according to the OECD. This will take its toll on corporate earnings projections and spark numerous profit warnings. All this unsettles investors, and uncertainty is known for being toxic to stock markets. The coming weeks are likely to bring considerably more turbulence in this area. The majority of economists expect significant catch-up effects in the second half of the year and during next year, if the coronavirus pandemic slows down during this time.

My pillar 3a pension is invested in shares, which have now dropped significantly in value. Should I sell them now?

History shows that investments in shares yield a greater return over the long term than other forms of investment such as conventional savings accounts. Stock markets have suffered major losses in the past but have recovered again over time. Investors with long investment horizons should not overreact. Note also that saving smaller amounts on a regular basis helps balance out exchange rate fluctuations better. Experts call this the “cost average effect”. This means that you buy more shares when prices are falling than when prices are rising. This reduces the risk of investing at the wrong time and paying too high a price for the entire assets invested.

FAQs: digital communications

Can I still watch Netflix and similar providers if everyone is at home and increased demands are placed on the Internet?

In principle, Netflix and other providers are prepared for a sudden surge in traffic. For example, Netflix has its own servers at many major TV providers such as Swisscom, which store the entire Netflix content. This reduces the burden on global networks.

Will the coronavirus outbreak prevent me from buying a new smartphone?

At the moment, for example, new smartphones can still be obtained relatively quickly from the major manufacturers – but that may well be about to change. Digitec/Galaxus, the largest online retailer in Switzerland, is already providing updates on supply bottlenecks. We must be prepared for long waiting times. Production has been stopped at many factories, and some remain at a standstill. Ships are also stuck at harbours or their cargo cannot be unloaded.

Can I still order products from Wish or AliExpress?

Given that up to 90% of electronic components are produced in China, the coronavirus crisis is set to have a major impact on the globalized world. The Wish portal, known for importing cheap products directly from China, has already announced delivery times of several weeks.

How often should I clean my smartphone?

We tap on our mobile phones hundreds of times a day, so they are teeming with germs and bacteria. You should therefore clean your phone regularly – not just because of coronavirus, though this makes it especially important to do so. You should clean it once or twice a day. The best way is to wipe the phone carefully using a cleaning cloth with warm water and a little washing-up liquid. Dry it with an absorbent cloth and apply a little disinfectant spray. Avoid using very strong cleaning fluids as they can damage the oil-resistant coating on the display.

Remember:

  • Don't put your phone on possible sources of infection such as a toilet or a table on the train.
  • Wash your hands before using your phone.

Miscellaneous

Can my pets (dogs, cats etc.) catch coronavirus?

So far, it has not been established whether cats and dogs can become infected by or transmit the virus. However, scientists estimate the risk to be very low. If a pet lives in the same home as someone with coronavirus, there is a chance it may become infected or contaminated with the virus. The pets themselves show no symptoms of the illness, i.e. they don't get sick.

The FOPH advises all pet owners who are isolated at home because of the virus to avoid contact with their pets and arrange for a healthy person to look after them. Cats and dogs from a quarantined household do not require special washing or disinfecting. Of course, you should always wash your hands after handling a pet.

Do I have to pay my childcare costs if the childcare centre closes?

Basically, you don't have to pay for a service that is not being provided. How this works in practice must be considered on a case-by-case basis. We advise you to ask the childcare centre directly or consult the Swiss Childcare Association (in German, French and Italian only). There you can find various information sheets relating to the coronavirus outbreak.

Essential links on the current situation

  • Latest updates from the FOPH
  • On this page, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) provides daily updates on the status of coronavirus and details of how to protect yourself.

  • Travel information from the FDFA
  • If you are planning to travel, you can check this page of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) for information on the current situation in the destination country (in German, French and Italian only). There is a section dedicated to coronavirus.

  • Global situation from the WHO
  • The World Health Organization has created a dashboard collating all the information relating to the spread of the virus. It provides the latest data on confirmed cases and deaths.