Coronavirus: Federal Council extends COVID certificate requirement and launches consultation on new entry rules
Bern, 08.09.2021 - From Monday, 13 September, a COVID certificate will be required to access indoor areas of restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities, and events held indoors. The certificate may also be used by employers as part of a company’s protection plan. These are the decisions taken by the Federal Council at its meeting on 8 September in response to the ongoing strained situation in hospitals. The measure expires on 24 January 2022. The Federal Council also began a consultation on two proposals: one regarding rules on entering the country for people who have not been vaccinated or who have not recovered from COVID-19, and another on people vaccinated abroad obtaining a Swiss COVID certificate.
The situation in hospitals remains strained; occupancy rates in intensive care units are extremely high. In some cantons, operations are being postponed and in some cases patients are being transferred to other hospitals. A rapid rise in hospital admissions and consequently an overburdening of the system due to the cooler autumn weather cannot be ruled out. The number of infections remains high and a slight increase in virus circulation has been observed in recent days.
The share of the non-immune population also remains too large to prevent another strong wave of infection. Although there has been renewed take-up of the vaccination, the overall vaccination rate is still low. Vaccination provides good protection, both against infection and against severe illness. Vaccinated people with a breakthrough infection are also far less likely to infect others.
Extension of COVID certificate requirement for a limited period
Based on the overall situation, the Federal Council has decided to extend the certificate requirement for persons aged 16 and over. This is to prevent hospitals from being overstretched. It will take two to three weeks for this measure to have an impact on the situation in the hospitals. The extended certificate requirement is for a limited period until 24 January 2022. The Federal Council can also lift the measure earlier if the situation in hospitals eases.
Use of the certificate to prevent closure of venues
The certificate is available to all and has already proved effective for discos and large-scale events. It makes it possible for events and activities to go ahead that would otherwise be too risky. The certificate documents 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. The use of the certificate significantly reduces the risk of transmission because people will only come into contact with others who are not infectious, or who only have a low risk of being infectious. It allows measures to be taken against the spread of the virus without having to resort to closing venues or banning certain activities. Furthermore, at events requiring a certificate, all other protective measures are lifted, i.e. requirement to wear a mask.
Certificate requirement for indoor areas
From Monday, 13 September, a certificate will be required to access indoor areas of restaurants and bars. Certificates will not be required for outdoor areas of restaurants or for street vendors and restaurants in airport transit zones. Access to cultural and leisure facilities such as museums, libraries, zoos, fitness centres, climbing halls, swimming pools, water parks, spas, billiard halls and casinos is also limited to COVID certificate holders.
Certificate requirement for indoor events
Access to indoor events (concerts, theatre, cinema, sporting events, private events such as weddings in public venues) is also restricted to COVID certificate holders. To protect fundamental rights, religious ceremonies and political events for up to 50 people are exempt, as are self-help groups. Current rules will continue to apply for outdoor events: a certificate requirement applies for events for over 1,000 people; organisers of smaller outdoor events can decide whether or not to limit access to COVID certificate holders.
Certificate requirement for sporting and cultural activities
Access to indoor sporting and cultural activities such as training sessions or music and theatre rehearsals is to be limited to COVID certificate holders. This restriction does not apply to fixed groups of no more than 30 people who regularly train or rehearse together in closed-off facilities.
Penalties for non-compliance with the certificate requirement
Guests without a certificate in establishments or at events where a certificate requirement applies can be fined CHF 100. Establishments and event organisers that do not comply with the certificate requirement may be fined or even closed down. The cantons are responsible for monitoring compliance.
Certificate may be used in the workplace
Employers may only check whether their employees hold a certificate if it is used to determine appropriate protective measures or implement a testing plan. Information regarding an employee’s immunity status or test result may not be used for any other purpose. If an employer requires its employees to undergo a test, it must bear the cost incurred of any test. The federal government only covers test costs if tests are conducted as part of a company’s repetitive testing scheme. Employees must be consulted on the use of the certificate and the measures derived from it and these must be documented in writing. On data protection grounds, employers should use the low-data ‘certificate light’ version wherever possible.
Certificate requirement possible at universities
The cantons or universities may introduce a certificate requirement for teaching at Bachelor and Master level. In such cases, students would not be required to wear a mask and there would be no restriction on classroom capacity. The general rules on events continue to apply for other events at universities and continuing education institutions.
Changes following the consultation
The extension of the certificate requirement was broadly welcomed in the consultation. The Federal Council has however made certain changes following the consultation, such as the exemption for street vendors and restaurants in airport transit zones, the possibility of imposing a fine, increasing to 50 the number of people allowed to attend religious ceremonies, and the requirement to consult employees and document the outcome in the workplace.
New entry rules to rapidly identify and isolate infected persons
At its meeting, the Federal Council also addressed the question of rules governing entry to Switzerland. In view of the autumn holidays, an effective entry regime needs to be established. The aim is to quickly identify and isolate people who have contracted the virus. The Federal Council is putting two proposal variations out to consultation. They take account of the fact that the adult population has had the opportunity to get vaccinated and recognise that the COVID certificate is an internationally recognised document.
Consultation on two proposal variations
Variation 1 is based on the repeat testing of travellers who are unvaccinated and who have not had COVID-19 and recovered. They should present a negative test on entering Switzerland, regardless of where they are travelling from. After four or a maximum of seven days in Switzerland, another test should be carried out in Switzerland. The canton must be notified of the result of the second test. Both tests are subject to a fee.
Variation 2 also envisages that travellers who are unvaccinated and who have not had COVID-19 and recovered should be required to present a negative test result on entry. However, instead of a second test these travellers would have to quarantine for ten days after entering the country. They would be able to end the quarantine after seven days if they test negative.
In the case of both variations, travellers would have to complete an electronic entry form (Passenger Locator Form) and the rules would apply to all forms of transport (on foot, bicycle, aeroplane, train, boat, bus and car). Existing border checks would be tightened and fines issued if necessary. Exceptions would apply to cross-border commuters, children under the age of 16, transit passengers and freight traffic through Switzerland.
The consultation lasts until 14 September. The Federal Council is expected to take a decision on 17 September. The rules would enter into force on 20 September.
Country list no longer appropriate for health-related measures
The list of countries previously employed by the Federal Office of Public Health to track where variants of the virus of concern were circulating is no longer appropriate. The highly contagious Delta variant led to a massive increase in the number of cases in many countries within just a few days. This dynamic cannot be reflected in such a list. In addition, not continually adjusting the list affords the travel industry a certain degree of stability. Nevertheless, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) does still operate a list of high-risk countries, which regulates where people may travel from to enter Switzerland.
COVID certificate for people vaccinated abroad
The Federal Council also addressed the issue of COVID certificates for people vaccinated abroad. Currently, only certificates issued by countries participating in the EU Digital COVID Certificate are technically compatible with the Swiss system. Under this proposal, anyone who has been vaccinated abroad with a vaccine approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and who resides in or travels to Switzerland would be able to obtain a Swiss COVID certificate. As in neighbouring countries, certificates are not to be made available for all WHO vaccines. Each canton must define a contact point for people who have been vaccinated abroad. All cantonal contact points are to be listed on a federal website. The Federal Council's proposal will now go out to consultation until 14 September.
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Last modification 20.12.2021
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