Swiss airlines and unions unite to demand return of air travel

In an unusual show of unity, Swiss airlines and aviation staff have come together to call for the government to ease restrictions on tourist travel.

A Swiss flight takes off at Geneva Airport
Geneva airport. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Representatives of the aviation lobby Aerosuisse have come together with staff unions to publish a three-point plan that they believe would kick start the travel industry after a year in which it has been more or less mothballed.

The plan would allow for travel to and from countries that have a similar rate of infection to Switzerland. It also foresees the creation of a digital passport for those who have been vaccinated, and a digital registration system for people who have tested negative for the virus.

“People should be able to travel between countries at similar risk of infection,” said Aerosuisse president Thomas Hurter in comments made to broadcaster SFR.

“It’s about the connectivity of Switzerland and about tourism. But it’s also about jobs and the freedom of travel in the future,” Hurter said.

Sandrine Nicolic-Fuss of the Kapers cabin crew union stressed that the majority of employees in the airline industry earn very little money. “These people want to work,” she said.

Two-thirds of employees in the aviation industry are currently on short-time work, said Daniel Lampart of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, adding that many are already struggling to make ends meet in normal times.

Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said he was willing to hold discussions about the plan but cautioned that the point when it could be implemented was still a long way off.

Swiss authorities have promised to put in place a coronavirus immunity passport – which entitles vaccinated people to various privileges – by summer. Meanwhile, Bern has indicated it will take part in the European Union’s Covid-19 passport project. 

SEE ALSO: Switzerland promises Covid-19 passport ‘by the summer’

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What to know about changes to free Covid testing in Switzerland

From January 2023, people in Switzerland will generally have to pay for Covid-19 tests. Here's a look at the changes.

What to know about changes to free Covid testing in Switzerland

What’s happening?

The Swiss Parliament says that from January 1st 2023, the costs of Covid-19 tests will no longer be paid for by the government. 

It means that anyone who wants a Covid test will have to pay for it themselves. 

However, Covid-19 tests ordered by a doctor will be met by health insurance costs “provided the test is required to determine any further medical action,” the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said in a statement.

“Such costs will also, however, be subject to the insurance’s deductible and copayment provisions,” said the FOPH. The test result has no influence on the reimbursement.

Why are the rules changing?

Since the early days of the pandemic, the Swiss government has been covering the cost of Covid tests – at least most of the time.

But testing is expensive – the government spent 2.1 billion francs on tests in 2021, and 1.6 billion this year up to the start of December.

“The continuation of reimbursement for tests that benefit public health would have cost around CHF 100 million in the 1st quarter of 2023, according to estimates by the FOPH, based on a 20 to 30 percent higher test volume than in the past weeks,” the FOPH says.

However, keeping tests free of charge could also lead to additional costs in other areas – such as a potentially greater burden on doctors’ practices and hospitals, the FOPH said.

What’s the reaction?

For infection specialist Jan Fehr, the end of free testing is happening at a bad time.

At the moment, it is difficult to keep track of which respiratory tract infections are having a significant burden on the health system with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and Covid all circulating at the same time, he told Swiss broadcaster SRF.

“Charging for corona tests from January will lead to even fewer people getting tested and is currently incomprehensible from an epidemiological point of view,” said Fehr.

Santésuisse, the industry association of Swiss health insurers, urged the state to take over the costs of tests again if the Covid situation worsens in future. 

What else should I know?

According to the FOPH, Covid tests are possible in the same facilities as before, such as doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, as well as in test centres.

Despite tests not being free of charge unless a doctor has ordered them, vaccinations against Covid-19 will continue to be free for people in Switzerland in 2023.