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 ten 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 48 hours after the symptoms have resolved, as long as at least 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms. Anyone who has been in close contact with an affected person should also self-quarantine at home for 10 days.

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 the period of time recommended by the Federal Council 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?

Health insurance covers the cost of testing for people with severe symptoms or a high risk of complications (deductible still applies). People who are not high risk and only have mild symptoms are tested in order to monitor the epidemic. The cantons cover the cost of these tests.

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.

What happens if we reach a point where not all coronavirus (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 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.

I’ve had coronavirus and have recovered with no complications. Do I still need to follow the recommendations of the Federal Council?

At the moment, you can assume that you have some immunity for a period of time following recovery, although some people have become infected a second time. You should still adhere to the rules though to avoid giving the impression that the rules no longer apply.

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. Cancellation expenses insurance will not cover your costs in this case. 

My package holiday has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Can I get my money back?

Travel agencies can either give you a voucher to be redeemed against a future holiday, refund the money or postpone the trip. If the future trip is more expensive, you do not need to pay the extra; if it is cheaper, the agency must pay you the difference. You can choose whether to accept the voucher or get a refund. Given the current circumstances, you should accept that it may take some time. The reason for this is that the airlines do not reimburse travel agencies for cancelled flights straight away. Parliament has now decided that airlines receiving government support must reimburse travel agencies for flights that did not take place by 30 September. Customers will therefore only be able to reclaim their money from October onwards.

I booked my holiday online and paid for the flight, hotels and hire car etc. separately. Can I get my money back?

This is more complicated than with a package holiday. You will have to request and check the cancellation conditions of each company separately. Flight tickets, purchased from Swiss, for example, can usually be refunded. It depends on the refund policy. If you bought a non-refundable ticket, you will lose the money unless Swiss cancelled the flight. For flight tickets issued by 15 May 2020 with a confirmed flight date of up to 30 April 2021, the value of the unused portion of your ticket will remain the same, even if you do not board the flight. For hotel bookings and car hire, you first need to clarify whether you will get a partial or a full refund. Experience shows that these companies are usually accommodating. If you have cancellation expenses insurance, you should first contact the travel agency to cancel your holiday, and then ask for statement of cancellation costs. The insurance company will refund the difference if the reason for cancellation is an insured event. Some insurers will pay out even when their general conditions of insurance do not oblige them to.

I cancelled my holiday before the crisis because I was worried about coronavirus. Is there any chance of me getting my money back?

Your chances are slim, as the cancellation conditions will apply. You can try to ask for your money back though, as some operators are showing more goodwill in the current situation.

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. 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. Try to book with service providers who allow you to cancel shortly before departure. 

Who pays if I am stuck somewhere and cannot get back to Switzerland?

People who live in Switzerland are generally responsible for their return trip themselves. They will have to pay any additional costs for hotels and return flights. If it was a package holiday, the travel agency or tour operator will help organize the return journey. Sometimes the agency will cover the cost of any additional overnight stays. Some cancellation expenses insurance policies also cover the costs incurred. 

I planned a wedding with a large number of guests. Who will cover the money I lost because I had to cancel it due to the state of emergency?

If you took out wedding or event insurance, you need to check with your insurer to see whether your policy covers costs relating to epidemics or pandemics. This is not normally the case. It usually costs more to cancel a wedding than to postpone it. If you have a cancellation expenses insurance policy that also covers family members, you can at least try to claim back the cost of any trips you booked in connection with the wedding for you and anyone from your household – provided epidemics and pandemics are covered. First, however, you must contact the event organizer and ask for your costs to be refunded.

Can I still take out travel insurance?

Yes, you can do that at any time. However, the insurance policy will not cover trips you have already booked. Travel insurance invariably makes sense for expensive holidays and for people who travel a lot. It's worth choosing an insurance product that includes cover for risks associated with epidemics and pandemics.

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?

Event organizers should usually refund the price of the ticket. They are currently working on different ways to do this. The best thing to do is visit the organizer's website. “Travel insurance” may cover the refund of event tickets up to the price stated in the policy, even if they are not part of an overall travel arrangement. 

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.

Can I go to my holiday home in Ticino or elsewhere?

Official information on this question is contradictory. On the one hand, we are still warned against tourist travel. At the same time, Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter has called on Swiss citizens to spend their holidays in Switzerland. Essentially, you can move freely within Switzerland provided you comply with the health precautions issued by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH)

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? And how might it impact property prices 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

Are garages and car dealers open?

Garages remained open even during lockdown. Since 11 May, car dealers have also been allowed to open for customers. However, both are required to take the necessary protective measures. Garages, for instance, fit protective covers over the steering wheel, gear stick and seats. Possible points of contact in and on the vehicle must be cleaned and disinfected before it is handed over. In addition, there is a limit on the number of customers allowed on the premises at any one time – depending on the size of the place. You also need to observe the minimum distance rule. Wherever possible, you should avoid sitting in a vehicle at the same time as the sales representative. If this is not possible, wear a face mask. If necessary, make an appointment before you go to your garage – whether for a service, repair or to buy a car.

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.

I need a car for the next few weeks. What are my options?

If you need a car quickly and don't want to be tied into a long-term agreement, a car subscription is a good choice. With a subscription, you pay for access to a vehicle, including insurance, services, repairs, tyres, taxes and even the motorway tax sticker – all at a fixed monthly price. In addition, a car subscription, unlike a lease, only ties you into a short minimum contract period. So if in a couple of months’ time, you find you don't need the car any more, you can return it after giving 30 days’ notice. At the moment, car subscription providers will deliver the car straight to your home. This service is provided free of charge by Carify and Hertz. Car-sharing provider Mobility now also offers you the chance to rent a car on a monthly basis – for a limited period. In this scenario, you keep the car during this time and don't have to share it with anyone, as would usually be the case. The monthly fixed price for the vehicle, including insurance, taxes and so on, starts at 420 francs. This will get you a vehicle the size of a Citroën C1 (budget package).

If you only need a car for a few days, conventional car rental is the best option.

Can I fit summer tyres to my car now?

Yes. Even if you aren't using your car much at the moment, you should get summer tyres fitted if possible. At spring and summer temperatures, driving on winter tyres is not ideal. The rubber compound is not designed for warm weather, and this can negatively affect your stopping distance and therefore compromise your safety. In addition, winter tyres wear down more quickly in summer.

Are road traffic offices open again?

Most of the counters at Swiss road traffic offices have been open since 27 April. Driving tests are also taking place again in many cantons. However, it is still advisable to complete any transactions online or by post wherever possible. For more information on opening hours, see the website of the Road Traffic Office in your canton of residence.

Can I now take driving lessons or my driving test?

Yes, driving lessons can take place from 11 May subject to the necessary protective measures being observed. These include wearing face masks and cleaning the surfaces between lessons. Theory and practical tests can also be held as of 11 May. In addition, courses such as road awareness theory, emergency first aid and compulsory further training (e.g. WAB4u) are taking place again. However, they are limited to a maximum number of participants (5 including the instructor). This low number of participants may lead to a temporary increase in course fees.

What happens if my provisional licence expired during lockdown?

If your provisional licence expired on 9 March 2020 or later, you can get a replacement with a new expiry date from the road traffic office. To do this, you must usually apply in writing to your road traffic office. You do not need to re-take your theory test or road awareness theory course.

Can I still drive if my probationary licence expired during lockdown?

If your probationary licence expired on or after 9 March, you are still currently allowed to drive in Switzerland.

I have ordered a new car. Will it take longer to arrive?

If you ordered a new car before or even during the coronavirus crisis, there may be delivery delays, depending on the model. You can expect this to continue during the coming weeks. This is because most of the major manufacturers have had to cease at least some of their production operations. Although factories have opened again in many places, it will take time for them to get fully up and running because of the extensive global supply chains involved. If you still want to buy a new car fairly soon, it is best to opt for a stock vehicle.

Can I get compensation for my GA Travelcard or annual regional pass if I didn’t use it during lockdown?

The public transport sector is offering a 15-day credit amount to owners of an annual travel pass (GA, regional, point-to-point and modular travelcards). GA Travelcard holders will receive a credit note, which will automatically be credited towards the purchase of a new GA Travelcard. If you do not purchase a new GA Travelcard, the amount will be refunded to you. To be eligible for this credit, you must have held a valid GA Travelcard between 17 March and 10 May.

Holders of regional, point-to-point and modular travelcards will have their card extended by 15 days instead of receiving a credit note. In this case, you are only eligible if you held a valid annual pass on 10 May.

Can I get compensation for my monthly travel pass if I didn’t use it during lockdown?

Holders of a monthly travelcard (regional, point-to-point or modular) will also be compensated. Depending on the network and the type of travelcard, you will receive compensation of either 15 francs or 15% of the cost of the card. In this case, you are only eligible if you held a valid pass on 17 March.

What do I have to do to get this travelcard credit?

Nothing. You don't need to visit or contact a public transport office. All affected travelcard holders will be notified by their regional travel office directly by the end of May.

Can I get credit for my Half Fare, Leisure or seven25 Travelcard?

No. Unfortunately, holders of these travel passes will not benefit.

Can I get my money back on public transport tickets that I've already purchased?

The standard reimbursement conditions apply to future day and single tickets purchased for journeys within Switzerland. Tickets for trips abroad up to and including 31 May will be refunded in full and at no extra cost provided you purchased the ticket before 14 March 2020 in Switzerland.

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’s gross domestic product to fall by between 1.5% and over 10% this year. This wide margin is due to the fact that economists cannot estimate how much the coronavirus will actually paralyze the economy. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expects global economic output to slump by up to 50% to 1.5% 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. After the initial shock, the stock markets are recovering. The easing of the lockdown, among other things, is driving the markets and therefore hopes for a speedy economic recovery worldwide. However, this confidence can soon turn to disappointment if the coronavirus starts spreading again.

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. In addition, Netflix, YouTube, Disney+ and other streaming services reduced their video quality at the end of March in order to ease pressure on the 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. Delays in the delivery of technical products can be expected from June onwards.

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 in some cases.

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.
  • Clean your smartphone once or twice a day.
  • Try to keep your phone on you as much as possible.

Telecommunications providers are supplying the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) with mobile tracking data. Is that legal?

Yes, according to the Federal Council, the analysis of mobile data is important for monitoring population behaviour. It helps the FOPH to establish whether its instructions are being followed. The data used is not personal data and is not provided in real time. At the FOPH, only one person is permitted to access this data, and the Federal Council has promised that no third parties will be allowed to view it.

How do tracking or tracing apps work and do I have to install one?

It has now been revealed that the FOPH has opted for a decentralized approach to the development of a tracing app. The app should be available for use during the summer. Making a significant contribution to the development of the app are researchers from the Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Zurich (ETH). The app can be used to warn people who have been in contact with an infected person so that they can be tested. The data will be made anonymous in accordance with data privacy requirements and stored locally on the person’s smartphone.

For data protection reasons, tracing apps will not be obligatory in Switzerland. Over 90% of the Swiss population has a smartphone with the Bluetooth function activated for their smartwatches or headphones. Many will recognize the personal benefits of a tracing app. Some 60-70% of the population need to be using the app for it to have a meaningful effect. However, even with fewer users, the virus transmission rate can be kept below one (one further infection per infected person) without a lockdown if the protective rules of the FOPH also continue to be observed.

Should I currently expect delays with ordering groceries online?

Online ordering of groceries has increased significantly in Switzerland since mid-March. That's why there are long delivery times and delays at both Le Shop and coop@home. Since most shops will be able to open again on 11 May, the delivery times of online retailers could stabilize in the next few weeks.

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 or I decide to look after my child at home?

In cantons where parents are voluntarily taking care of their children at home, these parents must pay their contribution. This is because the childcare centres are open as usual and fixed costs such as wages and rent must still be paid. The government has stated that it is up to the cantons and municipalities to decide on whether to provide financial support. For more information, see: Swiss Childcare Association (in German, French and Italian only)

Currently, no leisure activities (karate lessons, football training, music schools etc.) are allowed to take place. Some organizations are providing information to enable courses to continue at home. In these conditions, do I have to keep paying the course fees?

These contracts are based on a service being provided for a fee. If a customer has already paid the course fees but cannot make use of the service, either fully or partially (information material with instructions) and due to no fault of either party, the customer is entitled to a full or partial refund of the fees paid. The course provider can stipulate more precise arrangements in their general terms and conditions or in the contract. In this specific case, a portion of the course fees should be paid.

When will the lockdown be lifted?

Since Monday 27 April, hairdressing salons, massage practices and cosmetic studios have been able to open for customers. DIY stores, garden centres, florists and market gardens are also open to the public. In addition, hospitals can carry out non-urgent examinations and operations.

On Monday 11 May, shops, restaurants, markets, museums and libraries can reopen. Lessons may take place again in primary and secondary schools and sports training can be resumed at amateur and professional levels.

As of Monday 8 June, other educational facilities, botanic gardens and zoos may also be allowed to reopen. Large events involving more than 1,000 attendees remain banned until the end of August 2020.

Where do I have to wear a face mask?

The Federal Council still does not want to make mask wearing compulsory in public. The reason given is that face masks protect other people to a greater degree than those wearing them. Masks should therefore only be used in combination with distancing and hygiene rules. Industries are obliged to put protective measures in place when they open their individual businesses. These could involve the use of masks.

Where can I buy masks?

Chemists and online stores now sell basic hygiene masks.

Can I make my own mask?

The Federal Council advises against making your own textile mask. Commercially produced textile masks should comply with the recommendations of the Science Task Force Covid.

Can I go abroad to shop?

No. According to the COVID ordinance, if it is clear that you have been border shopping and have crossed the border for this purpose only, you will be fined 100 francs upon re-entry into Switzerland. This fine is not designed to punish the shopping itself but the disruption to the work of the border control authority. According to Swiss law, you are allowed to leave Switzerland. However, neighbouring European countries have strictly limited entry.

Will businesses that do not observe coronavirus rules be fined?

Yes. Anyone breaching the COVID ban on events can be fined or imprisoned for up to three years. The current rules in the area of sales also fall under this event ban.

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.