Testing, testing, testing: the Federal Council is orienting its health strategy towards mass screening. From March 15, symptomatic or not, the entire population will be able to get tested for free. Expected cost of the operation: CHF 1 billion.
“Support the restart of economic and social life”
“In order to be able to break the chains of contamination in a targeted manner, it is necessary to be able to quickly identify infected people, which makes tests a pillar in the fight against the pandemic,” underlines the government. As screening and laboratory capacities are now sufficient – and self-tests will soon be available – the Federal Council intends to extend free screening to the entire population. The aim is to support the gradual restart of economic and social life. ” The final decision on this new policy will be taken on March 12, after consultation with the cantons.
The Confederation was already financing the screening of symptomatic people and that of non-symptomatic people in nursing homes and schools: it will now bear the cost of all screening. By mid-March, getting tested should become routine. To promote screening and prevent possible outbreaks of the virus, the government is primarily targeting two groups of people: “company employees and students”.
These, described the Federal Council, can be frequently tested by means of saliva samples analyzed in a grouped manner, which considerably reduces the material and the time required. Note that participation in this type of screening will be optional. However, there will be advantages for those tested: “Companies which regularly test their employees may be exempted from the quarantine requirement for contact persons”.
Once the self-tests are available, the Federal Council also intends to provide five tests per month to each Swiss resident throughout the country. The Government specifies, however, that these have not yet been validated by the Federal Office of Public Health. No date is mentioned for this certification. Tests carried out in pharmacies and screening centers will also become free, including for cross-border workers.
The end of the measures?
“Carrying out repeated tests in companies is not intended to replace protection plans, but to further strengthen employee protection,” warns the Federal Council. The government emphasizes that free tests “only represent a snapshot of the situation”, “less reliable than PCR tests”. A negative result must therefore “not give the person an unfounded feeling of security or encourage him to behave unreasonably”, says the Federal Council. Wearing a mask and respecting distances will therefore continue to prevail.
In the event of a positive result, a PCR test should be carried out before isolating himself. The Federal Council is also not closing the door to compulsory tests in the context of certain events: “it remains to be assessed whether it is possible to make access or participation in events conditional on a negative test result”.