Argument over free COVID testing in Switzerland intensifies
Despite plans by the National Council to re-introduce free COVID-19 tests in Switzerland, the Council of States has now rolled proposals back to give the Federal Council more leeway on whether or not to re-introduce the policy.
National Council planned to re-introduce free testing
Last Thursday, the National Council - Switzerland’s lower house of government - voted by a wide margin to re-introduce free tests to detect COVID-19. Currently, you are only able to receive a free test in some cantons if you are ordered to take a test or are already displaying symptoms.
The move was in response to the increased number of COVID cases in the country, which has put unsustainable pressure on the healthcare system. The possibility of free testing would also make international travel easier, as well as relieve the financial burden of regular testing on those who are unvaccinated. The law passed the National Council by 144 votes to 43.
Chambers clash over free COVID testing
However, late on Monday, the Swiss Council of States (the upper house), chose to amend the proposal on free tests. By 33 votes to 12, the chamber chose a variant of the law, which only accepts free testing as a principle rather than a rule. This means that instead of a requirement to offer free tests, people would be granted certain “exemptions to the assumption of costs,” meaning that the decision on where to use free testing would still be up to the Federal Council (the executive branch).
As well as restricting the law, the Council of States made sure that only rapid antigen and pooled PCR tests could be free, meaning COVID PCR tests for holidays and trips abroad would not be gratis. Other revisions made include scrapping a transparency clause for COVID contracts issued by the government.
While both houses have agreed to continue pandemic support like unemployment benefits and loss of earnings relief for businesses, the problem of free testing has led to a stalemate. While the Federal Council has said it would not move back to free testing, mainly due to its cost, it remains to be seen which chamber of government will win out.