Coronavirus: Federal Council launches consultation on adapted COVID certificate
Bern, 20.10.2021 - The Federal Council wants to facilitate access to the COVID certificate for use within Switzerland, especially for people who have recovered from COVID-19. At its meeting on 20 October, it launched a consultation on a 'Swiss COVID certificate'. The Federal Council also discussed the possibility of lifting the certificate requirement in certain cases. However, in light of the current situation, with schools reopening after the autumn break, the cooler season ahead, stagnating case numbers, the highly contagious Delta variant and a relatively low level of immunisation, it concluded that the risks are still too high for easing restrictions at present. To prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by another wave of infections, it intends to maintain the current certificate requirement for the time being and reassess the situation in mid-November.
The Federal Council is seeking to facilitate access to the COVID certificate for certain groups of people with the introduction of a 'Swiss COVID certificate'. These new certificates are to be valid in Switzerland only. With this proposal, the Federal Council is also addressing a number of concerns raised in the autumn session of Parliament. The consultation will run until 26 October, and the Federal Council will decide on 3 November.
Easier access to the certificate with an antibody test
At present, people who have recovered from COVID-19 can only obtain a certificate if they can prove their recovery status with a PCR test result. Under the latest proposal, Swiss COVID certificates would also be issued to anyone who can present a current positive antibody or serology test. This test is subject to a fee. Certificates issued in such cases would be valid for 90 days only.
Also, the period of validity for all recovery certificates issued to date (with a PCR test) is to be doubled from 180 to 365 days. Based on the evidence currently available, this provides sufficient protection against serious illness and hospitalisation. However, as recovery certificates are valid for only 180 days in the EU, with some exceptions, this extended certificate is also only for use in Switzerland.
Easier access for people who cannot be tested or vaccinated
People who cannot be vaccinated or tested for medical reasons already have access to establishments, facilities and events requiring a COVID certificate. These individuals are now also to receive a machine-readable Swiss COVID certificate valid for 365 days.
Easier access to the certificate for tourists
At present, tourists who have been vaccinated abroad can only receive a COVID certificate valid for Switzerland and the EU if their vaccine was approved by Swissmedic or the EMA. In an effort to support the tourism sector and the economy, it is proposed that all tourists who have been vaccinated abroad with a vaccine approved only by the WHO should also have access to the Swiss certificate. This is currently the situation for the Sinovac und Sinopharm vaccines. The period of validity is to be limited to 30 days and the certificate would be valid only in Switzerland.
Discussion on lifting the certificate requirement
At its meeting, the Federal Council also held a lengthy discussion on lifting the certificate requirement. It intends to ease this requirement as soon as there is no longer a risk of hospitals becoming overburdened, irrespective of the vaccination rate. This is in keeping with its three-phase model. However, following a thorough analysis of the epidemiological risks, the Federal Council concluded that even a partial lifting of the certificate requirement would currently present too high a risk for the health system. The Federal Council's continued objective is to keep further waves of infections low enough to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Case numbers rising again
High occupancy rates in hospitals had prompted the Federal Council to extend the certificate requirement on 10 September. Since then, the epidemiological situation has improved somewhat, with lower numbers of cases, hospital admissions and ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. However, case numbers have stagnated for several days now, despite the fine autumn weather and the school holidays. In fact, several cantons have already seen an increase in the number of infections. While trends for the coming weeks are difficult to predict, there is likely to be another increase in infections once the schools reopen after the break and people start spending more time indoors.
Delta variant causing more serious illness
Another factor is that the Delta variant is much more contagious than earlier variants and increases the risk of serious illness. As more people infected with the virus require intensive treatment, and for longer periods of time, this places an additional strain on ICU capacity. This became apparent towards the end of the summer, when hospitals experienced such a rapid increase in patients that operations had to be postponed in many places. While the higher level of immunisation is slowing down the circulation of the virus, it is still too low to prevent another high wave of infection.
Other countries' experience points to caution
The Federal Council also looked to the experience gained in other countries for its analysis of the situation. In Israel and the Netherlands, case numbers increased rapidly after their reopening, placing an enormous burden on hospitals. In both of these countries, the level of vaccination uptake at the time of reopening was similar to that of Switzerland today.
With this in mind, the Federal Council intends to postpone any lifting of the certificate requirement for the time being and will continue to monitor the situation over the next few weeks. It will reassess the situation in mid-November, when the effects of the cooler temperatures and the schools' reopening can be evaluated.
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