Coronavirus: Tests

Testing is a key measure in managing the epidemic. To detect as many cases of infection as possible, people with and without symptoms are tested.

Who covers the costs of tests?

The federal government will cover the costs as follows:

Individual PCR tests

The federal government covers the costs of individual PCR tests in the following cases:

  • You are being tested because you have symptoms.
  • You have received a notification from the SwissCovid app.
  • You have been in contact with a confirmed case.
  • You have been instructed by a cantonal authority or a doctor to perform a test.

The federal government does not cover the costs of Individual PCR tests required to obtain a COVID certificate.

Pooled PCR tests

Pooled saliva PCR-Tests are more sensitive than rapid antigen tests and the sampling method is much easier and less invasive. Instead of a poke up your nose, all that is needed is a some saliva. Taken together, pooled saliva PCR-Tests is the recommended method of testing for COVID-certificates. The result is usually available within 12 to 24 hours of receipt of the sample in the laboratory.

  • Negative results: A COVID certificate will be obtained. The certificate is valid for 72 hours (3 days) from the time of giving the saliva sample.
  • Positive results: When the results from the pooled PCR test is positive, or in rare cases declared invalid, the persons in the pool will receive an SMS with this information. These persons must as soon as possible take a confirmatory individual PCR test at a COVID test centre. This individual confirmatory PCR test is free of charge and should be performed without delay. If the confirmatory PCR test is negative, a COVID certificate will be issued based on this test.
  • You also receive a certificate for a negative confirmatory test.
  • Costs and costs covered by the federal government: The federal government covers costs for all persons.
  • Where can I take a pooled saliva PCR test? Test centres include pharmacies, medical practices, laboratories and test centres.

The federal government also covers the costs of pooled PCR tests.

You take part in organised repeat testing (e.g. in businesses and healthcare institutions and in schools, universities or for a camp).

  • There is also the possibility of issuing certificates if the canton provides for this. From 17 January the issuing of certificates will be possible in all cantons.

Rapid antigen tests

You can get tested at a testing centre, at your medical practitioner, at a hospital or in pharmacies. The federal government covers the costs of nasopharyngeal rapid antigen tests for everyone.

If the test you take for obtaining a COVID certificate is a rapid antigen test, it must be based on a nasopharyngeal swab. Rapid antigen tests based on a nose swab only can still be used for tests that do not result in a COVID certificate for a negative test result, but they are generally not recommended as they are less reliable than those based on a nasopharyngeal swab.

Antibody tests

A COVID certificate of recovery can be issued following a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, provided the sample was taken on or after 16 November 2021. The costs of antibody tests to obtain a COVID recovery certificate are not covered by the federal government.

Antigen self-tests

The federal government no longer covers the costs of antigen self-tests. This means that you will have to cover the costs yourself, regardless of whether you have recovered from Covid-19 or have been vaccinated. Self-testing kits can be purchased at pharmacies, drugstores and some retail outlets.

Should I get tested immediately if I have symptoms?

Yes. Get tested immediately if you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus disease. This also applies you are fully vaccinated or if you only have very mild or isolated symptoms. If you have symptoms, it is strongly recommended to get tested with a PCR test.

You should also get tested if you suspect that you have been infected (e.g. following contact with an infected person or after receiving a notification from the SwissCovid app).

Should I get tested if I don’t have symptoms?

Even if you do not have symptoms of Covid-19, you have the option of being tested. This ensures that as many coronavirus infections as possible can be detected early on, supporting the gradual easing of restrictions on social activities and economic life.

Testing without symptoms includes the following principles:

  • Regular testing in companies and institutions
  • Testing for personal reasons and as part of precautionary measures
  • Testing after holidays

Are you not sure whether to have a coronavirus test or how to do it? Look through the diagram to see what to do. A test can make sense if you have symptoms, but also if you do not.

Regular testing in companies and institutions

People should be regularly tested in companies, schools and other institutions. This ensures early detection of chains of transmission in locations where many people come into contact with each other. These tests should primarily be carried out with pooled PCR saliva samples. With this type of testing, the samples are not analysed individually, but as a single pooled sample. You can find out more about how this type of test works in the section What types of test are available?

The federal government recommends, encourages and funds repeat testing. In schools and educational institutions, repeat testing is helping daily life with lessons and teaching to return to normal. In healthcare institutions, repeat testing of staff, patients and residents is carried out in order to ensure the safety of high-risk individuals.

Please note:

  • The institution carrying out these tests is responsible for the implementation of testing.
  • Positive tests (pooled tests and rapid tests) must be confirmed immediately with a confirmatory PCR test. This means that everyone who took part in pooled test must take an individual PCR test. This is important to find out which people are infected. You will find more information in the section on what to do in the event of a positive test result.
  • Participation in repeat testing is voluntary.

The recommendation to take part in repeat testing applies to everyone who is not fully vaccinated or who have not recovered from Covid-19. People who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid-19 may still take part in repeat testing. The costs are covered by the federal government for all participants.

Tests for personal reasons and as part of precautionary measures

You have the option of getting tested free of charge without symptoms for personal reasons or as part of precautionary measures. This could be the case, for example, if:

  • You get tested to protect people at especially high risk, e.g. to visit your grandparents or someone in a hospital.
  • You get tested as part of precautionary measures.

For people who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19, testing is recommended in the event of symptoms or after contact with positive cases.

Getting tested after holidays

On account of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain restrictions are in place for entering Switzerland. With few exceptions, everyone entering Switzerland must present an entry form and a negative test result.

You’ll find more information on the page Entering Switzerland.

If you have symptoms you should always get tested immediately. You can find out more about this in the section Should I get tested immediately if I have symptoms?

Tests without symptoms – what to do after you get your test result

If you have no symptoms and the result from a rapid test, self-test or pooled PCR sample is positive, the following applies:

What to do in the event of a positive test result

Getting a positive result from a rapid test, self-test or pooled sample initially only means that it is likely that you have been infected with the coronavirus. You should therefore:

  • Get the test result confirmed with a PCR test.
  • Go to your doctor, a test centre, a hospital or pharmacy to get the test result confirmed.
  • Stay at home in isolation until you have received the test result.
  • In the event of a positive PCR test result: follow the instructions under I have received a positive test result. What do I do next?
  • In the event of a negative PCR test result: it is highly likely that you do not have been infected with the coronavirus. However, it is important that you continue to follow the rules on hygiene and social distancing.

What to do in the event of a negative test result

If the result of the rapid test, self-test or pooled sample is negative, then it is highly likely that you were not contagious at the time of the test. However, this is a snapshot that is only meaningful for a short time. A negative test result does not necessarily mean that you do not have been infected with the coronavirus. It is therefore important that you follow the rules on hygiene and social distancing.

The fact sheet ‘Tests without symptoms – what to do after you get your test result’ provides a graphical overview of what to do next (available in German (PDF, 291 kB, 24.12.2021), French (PDF, 292 kB, 24.12.2021) and Italian (PDF, 286 kB, 24.12.2021) only).

Note: This testing strategy corresponds to the FOPH’s recommendation. Implementation is the responsibility of the cantons and may deviate from the recommendation.

What types of test are available?

The range of different tests and their availability is evolving constantly. Details of each test can be found in the text and the video below.

Individual PCR test

A positive individual PCR test indicates that you are infected with the COVID-19 virus. PCR tests can be performed by means of a nasopharyngeal swab, a combined nasal and throat swab, a throat swab or a saliva sample. The result is generally available within 12 to 24 hours. The swab is performed by your doctor or at a hospital or test centre. The sample is then analysed in a licensed laboratory.

Pooled PCR test

In a pooled PCR test, the saliva samples of several people are combined in one pooled sample. The laboratory performs their analysis on this pooled sample. If the result of the pooled sample is positive, individual samples subsequently have to be taken to identify which person is infected. For this purpose an individual PCR test will be performed.

Rapid antigen test

Rapid antigen tests yield a result within 15 to 20 minutes. Like PCR tests, they determine whether you are infected with the new coronavirus. The test is performed by means of a nasopharyngeal swab. It cannot be performed on a saliva sample. Since rapid antigen tests yield a less reliable result than PCR tests, in certain situations a positive result from a rapid test have to be confirmed with a PCR test.

Antigen self-test

You can test yourself for coronavirus by using an antigen self-test. You take the sample yourself with a nose swab, and can read the result yourself. The result of the test is available within 15 to 20 minutes. Follow the enclosed instructions on how to carry out a self-test. Self-tests can determine whether you are contagious at the time of the test.

Caution: Self-tests provide a less reliable result than PCR tests or rapid antigen tests under professional use. It is possible that even if the test result is negative, you may be infected with the coronavirus and can pass it on to others. This is why self-tests are no a substitute for the hygiene and social distancing rules and other precautionary measures. In other words, even if you get a negative result, you should still keep your distance, wear a mask and wash your hands. However, the self-test provides extra protection in addition to these measures. It can, for example, make sense to do a self-test before a meeting that is taking place anyway (e.g. before an outdoor barbecue or training session at a youth sports club); in this case it should be done immediately before the event in question.

In the following situations, we advise you not to use a self-test and instead to get tested by a professional at your doctor’s, at a pharmacy, in a hospital or at a testing centre:

  • You have coronavirus symptoms.
  • You have had contact with someone who has tested positive.
  • You are in quarantine.
  • You wish to spend time around people at especially high risk. 
  • You need a negative test result to enter Switzerland. You can find more information on this topic on the page Entering Switzerland.

The video below shows how a self-test is used. This is an example with one type of test. Please always follow the instructions for the specific test brand you are using.

You will see what to do once you have your test result in the section Tests without symptoms - what to do after you get your test result. 

The following applies to all types of test described above: Please consult your doctor if you have had a negative test result and:

  • Your symptoms worsen or you get additional symptoms indicative of the new coronavirus.
  • Your symptoms persist for more than 2 days after testing and do not improve.
  • You find out that during the 14 days before your symptoms started you were in contact with someone who tested positive.

Serological test

Serological tests detect certain antibodies in the blood, in this case those developed against the new coronavirus. The presence of a person’s own antibodies indicates that they have already been in contact with the virus or have been vaccinated. Serological tests are very useful for studies of the population, for example to observe immunisation of the population.
An antibody test that is currently positive indicates that the person has recovered and/or has antibodies. It does not, however, give any indication as to how long ago the infection took place. At present, it is not possible to say anything about how immune protection will develop over time from the results of an antigen test. Therefore, the validity of the COVID certificate of recovery based on a positive antibody test is limited to 90 days. The blood sample to obtain a COVID certificate must have been taken on or after 16 November. You can find more information about certificates on the COVID certificate page.

Where can I get a test?

You can get tested for the new coronavirus at various doctors, test centres, hospitals and pharmacies.
The cantons are responsible for assuring access to tests. For this reason, you will find information on the various testing facilities on the relevant cantonal websites:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Answers to frequently asked questions concerning tests can be found here.

Further information

Isolation and quarantine

What to do in the event of symptoms and following contact with an infected person, information on isolation and quarantine and recommendations for symptomatic children

Protect yourself and others

Rules on hygiene and social distancing: get vaccinated, keep your distance, wash your hands, cough/sneeze into a paper tissue/the crook of your arm, stay at home if you experience symptoms, rules on wearing masks and working from home

Disease, symptoms, treatment

Information on Covid-19, the symptoms and the range of illness severity as well as the origin of the new coronavirus

Last modification 25.01.2022

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