Coronavirus : Tests

To manage the epidemic it is important to detect as many infections with the new coronavirus as possible. So if you have symptoms of COVID-19, get a test. In this case the federal government will cover the costs of the test.

Testing strategy and coverage of the costs of tests

The federal government is pursuing the following approaches to detect as many infections with the new coronavirus as possible:

Current FOPH testing strategy

The approach is still that anyone with symptoms of the new coronavirus disease should be tested immediately after their symptoms start. The goal of this strategy is to detect as many infections as possible. This is the only way of systematically breaking chains of infection, which is key to managing the epidemic. For this reason the federal government covers the costs of PCR tests, rapid antigen tests and other rapid tests, provided that one of the following criteria is met:

  • You have symptoms matching Covid-19.
  • You receive a notification from the SwissCovid App that you’ve been in contact with an infected person. You’ll find information on this on the SwissCovid App and Contact Tracing site.
  • You are in quarantine because of close contact with an infected person. You can be tested once from the 5th day following the contact. However, a negative test does not mean you can come out of quarantine prematurely.
  • The cantonal office or a doctor orders you to have a test as part of an outbreak investigation.

The federal government will not cover the costs of the test if:

  • You need a negative test result for travel.
  • You are being tested at the request of your employer.
  • The test is carried out abroad.

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

Additionally from 21 December 2020: Extended use of rapid tests outside the FOPH testing strategy

On 18 December 2020 the Swiss Federal Council decided that rapid antigen tests and other forms of rapid test may also be done on people who do not meet the FOPH’s criteria. The main aim is to detect asymptomatic people to break infection chains in good time. The extended use of other rapid tests is intended to reduce the economic and social impact. For example, rapid tests could be made an integral part of precautionary measures for hotels, fairs, international conventions, concerts and sporting events or at the workplace.

In this situation the following applies:

  • The federal government will not pay for tests conducted in such circumstances.
  • Testing is voluntary. Employers cannot oblige employees to have a test, and employers are not entitled to be notified of the medical findings on their employees.
  • All rapid tests must always be done by trained medical personnel.
  • A positive result from a rapid test must always be confirmed with a PCR test. The Federal Government will pay the costs of the confirmatory PCR test.
  • The use of rapid tests is no substitute for the existing hygiene and social distancing rules or precautionary measures.

The following applies across the board: If the costs of the test are not covered by the federal government, we recommend that you find out in advance how much the costs are going to be, as they can vary.

You’ll find more information in the Coronavirus - coverage of cost of the analyses and associated care (PDF, 1 MB, 22.12.2020) fact sheet.

An overview of the types of test

The range of different tests and their availability is evolving constantly. To protect members of the public and systematically manage the epidemic, the use of testing must be examined carefully. Since 2 November 2020, in addition to PCR tests, it has been possible to use rapid antigen tests to diagnose infection with the new coronavirus. Starting on 21 December 2020 other types of rapid test will also be permitted for diagnosing infection. Below you will find an overview of the different types of test.

PCR test

The PCR test determines whether you have an infection with the new coronavirus. The test is done by means of a nose and throat swab or throat swab. According to the latest findings, a PCR test on a saliva sample is just as reliable as a nose and throat swab or throat swab. For this reason, some institutions may also do a PCR test on a saliva sample. The result is generally available within 24 to 48 hours. The swab is done by your doctor or at a hospital or test centre. The sample is then analysed in a licensed laboratory.

Rapid antigen test

Since 2 November 2020 it has been possible to conduct rapid antigen tests all over Switzerland, also outside licensed laboratories. Rapid antigen tests yield a result within 15 to 20 minutes. Their introduction makes it easier to access testing and allows more people to be tested. This enables more positive cases to be detected, allowing the people affected to go into isolation more quickly. Like PCR tests, rapid antigen tests determine whether you are infected with the new coronavirus. The test is done by medical personnel specifically trained for this purpose by means of a nose and throat swab. In addition to medical practices, hospitals and test centres, rapid antigen tests can also be carried out in pharmacies. Rapid antigen tests yield a less reliable result than PCR tests. Even so, given the fact that PCT testing capacity is currently limited, the FOPH believes it makes sense to use rapid antigen tests. This is because significantly more people can be tested and go into isolation if the result is positive.

A rapid antigen test is a possible option if you have symptoms of the new coronavirus and meet all the following criteria:

  • Your symptoms started fewer than 4 days ago.
  • You are not in a vulnerable group.
  • You do not work in healthcare with direct patient contact.
  • You are being treated on an outpatient basis.

A rapid antigen test can be considered in the following situations if you do not have symptoms of the new coronavirus:

  • You receive a notification from the SwissCovid App that you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
  • Your doctor or the cantonal office responsible orders a rapid test because you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
  • You are tested as part of precautionary measures (e.g. at a sporting event, concert, etc.) or at the recommendation of your employer.

Other rapid tests

In the future other types of rapid test besides rapid antigen tests will come onto the market. The reliability of these rapid tests has to be verified before they are used in practice. On 18 December 2020 the Federal Council defined the validation procedure for other rapid tests in more detail. This assures that these tests will meet high standards of quality.

Enabling the use of other types of rapid test will allow even more people to be tested, in particular those without symptoms, as well as facilitating access to testing. As is the case with rapid antigen tests, these other types of rapid test will be conducted by doctors, hospitals and test centres. The sampling method will differ depending on the rapid testing procedure.

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 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 are used to detect antibodies, for example antibodies against the new coronavirus, in the blood. Antibodies indicate that the tested person has been in contact with the virus.

It is currently unclear whether people who have developed antibodies are protected from renewed infection. It is also possible for this type of test to show antibodies even though none are there. This gives the person tested a false sense of security. We therefore do not currently recommend this type of test.

When should I have a test?

The easiest way to find out whether you should have a test is to do the coronavirus check. The check is anonymous, and in addition to the symptoms also takes account of other factors such as underlying (pre-existing) conditions and age. Alternatively you can call your doctor on the phone and discuss whether a test is advised.

Have a test if this is recommended by the coronavirus check or your doctors. Stay at home and avoid all contact with other people until the result of the test is available.

To find out what to do after a positive or negative test, visit the Isolation and quarantine site.

Children under age 12 do not have to be tested in all cases. You will also find information on what to do if children have symptoms on the Isolation and quarantine site.

Where can I get a test?

You can be 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:

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: keep your distance, wash your hands, cough/sneeze into a paper tissue/the crook of your arm, stay at home if you experience symptoms, recommendations 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 18.12.2020

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We are unable to respond to enquiries related to COVID-19 in writing.

Please refer instead to our webpages, which are continuously updated.

Under Contacts and links you will find contact information for the FOPH, other federal agencies and the cantons.

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