Coronavirus: Federal Council to launch precautionary consultation on extending COVID certificate requirement
Bern, 25.08.2021 - It is currently difficult to gauge how the epidemiological situation is likely to develop. If hospital admissions continue to rise as sharply as they have recently, hospitals could be overstretched within just a few weeks. The Federal Council wants to be able to act quickly if necessary. At its meeting on 25 August, it therefore decided as a precautionary measure to consult the cantons and social partners by 30 August on tightening measures against the spread of the coronavirus. The focus is on extending the requirement to present a COVID certificate to access indoor areas of restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities and indoor events. The Federal Council has also decided that from 1 October the cost of tests to obtain a COVID certificate will no longer be covered by the Confederation.
Hospital admissions of patients with the coronavirus have been rising sharply for several weeks now. The main reason for the increase is likely due to the low vaccination rate: in Switzerland, 56 per cent of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 63 per cent in the European Union. The number of people with no immunity who risk becoming infected is still high. There are also other possible reasons for the increase: the transmissibility of the delta variant, people returning from holidays, the gradual lifting of measures such as the requirement to work from home and the ban on face-to-face teaching at universities, as well as a shift in the behaviour of the public.
It is difficult to predict at present whether the sharp rise in hospital admissions is likely to continue over the next few weeks with the start of the new school year, students returning to university for the autumn semester and cooler temperatures, or whether the situation will stabilise.
Measures only effective after two to three weeks
It generally takes two to three weeks for stricter measures to have an effect on hospital admissions. The Federal Council cannot therefore wait until hospitals are overstretched before tightening measures. If hospitals become overstretched, the number of deaths among COVID-19 sufferers would increase and non-urgent medical procedures would have to be postponed. Healthcare provision for all would suffer as a result.
Extension of situations where a COVID certificate is required
The Federal Council has therefore decided as a precaution to consult the cantons and the social partners on possible steps to tighten measures. As envisaged in the three-phase model, the COVID certificate would play a key role. The advantage of the certificate is that it is available to everyone. It documents in a standardised and forgery-proof manner either that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, that they have had the disease and have recovered, or that they have recently tested negative.
Unlike in previous waves of infection, the closure of entire sectors and the introduction of bans on certain activities are not under consideration. The certificate will reduce the risk of transmission because only people who are not infectious or who have a low risk of being infectious will be able to gather. As is already the case, children under the age of 16 will not be required to have a certificate.
There will be no change to the well-known and broadly accepted hygiene and social distancing recommendations, quarantine rules and the general obligation to wear masks in publicly accessible indoor areas, shops and public transport.
Certificate requirement for indoor areas of restaurants, bars and clubs
The Federal Council is proposing to extend the certificate requirement currently applicable to clubs and discos to all indoor areas of restaurants, bars and clubs. Certificates can be checked at the entrance or on first contact with guests when seated. Certificates will not be required in outdoor areas. The certificate requirement does not apply to staff as they are still subject to other measures, such as the requirement to wear a mask. However, when all staff present hold a COVID certificate, they are not required to wear a mask.
The same rules will also apply to hotel restaurants. Certificates will not be required to stay at a hotel as these should be open to people who may not immediately be able to get tested.
Certificate requirement for indoor events
Access to indoor events (concerts, theatre, cinema, sporting events, private events such as weddings) is also to be restricted to COVID certificate holders. To protect fundamental rights, religious ceremonies, funerals and political events for up to 30 people are exempt. Masks must be worn if these events are held indoors. Current rules will continue to apply for outdoor events.
Certificate requirement for cultural and leisure facilities
Access to venues such as museums, zoos, fitness centres, climbing halls, swimming pools, water parks, spas, billiard halls and casinos is to be limited to COVID certificate holders. Sites that are exclusively outdoors are exempt.
Certificate requirement for sporting and cultural activities
Access to indoor sporting and cultural activities such as training sessions or music and theatre rehearsals, where masks are currently not required, is to be limited to COVID certificate holders. This restriction does not apply to children under the age of 16 and to fixed groups of no more than 30 people who train or rehearse together regularly in separate premises.
Contact details recorded in clubs and discos
A COVID certificate requirement is already in place for clubs and discos. These establishments are now to be required to record contact details as well in order to facilitate contact tracing.Clarification on the use of COVID certificates in the workplace
The Federal Council is also proposing to clarify an amendment to the ordinance on the use of COVID certificates in the workplace, which would state explicitly that an employer is entitled to check whether staff hold a certificate when setting appropriate protective measures or when implementing a testing plan.
Federal Council to adapt testing strategy
The Federal Council also adapted the national testing strategy today. Testing remains an important means of controlling the pandemic, breaking chains of infection and preventing hospitals from becoming overstretched. Routine testing in schools and in the workplace should therefore continue. These routine tests will continue to be financed by the Confederation.
COVID certificate: Cost of preventive tests must be paid for individually
From 1 October, people wishing to be tested to obtain a COVID certificate will have to pay for the tests themselves. All those who wish to be vaccinated have had the opportunity to do so. The Federal Council now no longer considers it the responsibility of the population as a whole to cover the cost of testing for people who have not been vaccinated or who have not had the disease. It is still possible to get vaccinated free of charge.
Exceptions for people with symptoms and young people
The cost of tests for people with symptoms will continue to be covered by the Confederation. However, these do not entitle the holder to a COVID certificate. Rapid antigen tests for people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons as well as tests for children under the age of 16 will continue to be paid for by the Confederation. Those visiting a healthcare institution, such as a retirement or nursing home or a hospital can also still be tested free of charge. It is extremely important to protect those at especially high risk. Those testing negative will be provided with an attestation instead of a COVID certificate.
Pool tests open to all
The Federal Council wants to allow people without symptoms to be able to participate individually in pooled saliva-based PCR tests at their own cost, for example in pharmacies, The advantage of these tests is that they are more reliable than rapid antigen tests. It will also be possible to provide a PCR saliva sample at home. The identity of the person providing the sample must be verifiable.
Results of the consultation
The vast majority of the cantons, social partners and relevant National Council committees agreed with the proposed changes to the testing strategy. In particular, they welcomed the continued financing of routine tests in schools and the workplace. However, they suggested changes with regard to the reimbursement of test costs and stricter rules to prevent abuses. The Federal Council agreed to some of these suggestions. Young people will be able to be tested free of charge up to the age of 16. However, certificates will only be issued for people over 16 if they have paid for the test themselves.
Broader wastewater testing
The Federal Council has also decided to broaden the systematic testing of wastewater from sewage treatment plants for traces of coronaviruses. This would cover an area inhabited by around 60 per cent of the population. Key epidemiologically relevant tourist destinations would also be included. This would allow local outbreaks to be detected quickly and appropriate measures initiated.Vaccination for Swiss citizens living abroad
The Federal Council has today decided to amend the Epidemics Ordinance. This means that Swiss citizens living abroad, and their immediate family (partners, children, parents and parents-in-law living in the same household) and cross-border commuters who do not have compulsory health insurance in Switzerland can be vaccinated in Switzerland. The vaccination costs will be assumed by the Confederation as requested by the cantons.
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