Ending free Covid-19 tests sends ‘wrong signal’, warns top doctor
Covid tests will no longer be reimbursed by the Swiss federal authorities for people with symptoms from January 1, 2023. This is misguided, sending the “wrong signal” this winter, says a top medical official.
A new wave of coronavirus infections and hospital admissions emerged in Switzerland in September; numbers have since stabilised at a high level. A total of 18,588 new Covid cases were reported on December 6 for the previous seven-day period, down 2.5% on the previous week. Health officials nonetheless say there are a high number of unreported new infections.
The number of reported Covid tests has fallen from a peak of 100,000 a day at the height of the pandemic to around 8,000-13,000 daily tests.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives followed the Senate in agreeing to end free Covid tests from January 2023 instead of the original plan of mid-2024. The Senate had pushed for an early end after high test costs for the authorities: CHF2 billion in 2021 and CHF1.6 billion for the current year. Since the end of Covid restrictions in Switzerland and the obligation to isolate, the costly test regime has made no sense, argued a majority of parliamentarians.
Urs Karrer, chief physician for infectiology at Winterthur’s cantonal hospital and former vice-president of the Swiss national Covid science task force, says if tests are no longer free this will lead to even fewer people with symptoms getting tested.
“From a medical and epidemiological point of view, the end of the free tests comes at an unfortunate time," he toldExternal link Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Saturday.
Three respiratory viruses are circulating in Switzerland, which are putting a strain on the healthcare system: the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which primarily affects children, influenza and coronavirus.
“The hospitals are already struggling due to the long-term staff shortages,” said Karrer, adding that ending the previous test regime in winter would send the “wrong signal”.
In the future, health insurance will cover test costs in individual cases, such as when a positive test leads to medical treatment. This is likely to be the case most of the time when a sick person is admitted to hospital.
Meanwhile, the Federal Office of Public Health says it will rely mainly on wastewater monitoring to keep an eye on the evolution of Covid.
“The virus is circulating a lot, it is even increasing a little,” Manuel Schibler, head of the virology laboratory at the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) toldExternal link Swiss public TV, RTS. “The amount of virus analysed in the wastewater, in the sewers, allows us to say that. It is the best indicator we currently have.”
The authorities lifted the last Covid prevention measures on April 1. Masks are no longer required on public transport, and there is no more five-day isolation requirement for positive cases. Health-related restrictions for incoming travellers were lifted in February.
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