Swiss government, 16.09.2021

Corona tests will probably remain free beyond 1 October

The federal government is likely to overturn the cost obligation for Corona tests as early as Friday. Federal Councillors Ueli Maurer and Guy Parmelin are giving way to pressure from their party.

The parliamentary group of the SVP (Swiss People’s Party) raised a motion on Tuesday: the federal government should refrain from making corona tests subject to a fee from 1 October. The tests should remain free-of-charge as long as a Covid certificate is mandatory in the country.

SVP parliamentary group leader Thomas Aeschi says: "We expect the Federal Council to revise its decision." The extension of the certificate requirement has created a case of blatant, unequal treatment between vaccinated and unvaccinated. "This should not be made even greater. Above all, many young people with a small budget are still unvaccinated."

The cost obligation was based on a proposal by Ueli Maurer
The pressure of the SVP party on its own two Federal Councillors is having an effect. On Wednesday, on the fringes of the parliamentary session, it was learned that the state government (Landesregierung) wanted to talk about the cost obligation for the corona tests once again in its meeting on Friday. It thereby looks like the Federal Council will overturn its decision of 11 August 2021.

It was at that meeting that the SVP Federal Councillors Ueli Maurer and Guy Parmelin proposed that people who take a test without symptoms should soon have to pay for it. The two magistrates were successful. The government followed this course, even though Health Minister Alain Berset was in favour of continuing to make the Corona tests available free of charge.

Ueli Maurer and Guy Parmelin argued that it could no longer be up to taxpayers to pay for the cost of the tests. Maurer apparently did this with a view to public finances. The principle of self-responsibility was also an important factor for the conservative majority of the government.

The SVP Federal Councillors Ueli Maurer (right) and Guy Parmelin are under considerable pressure
Peter Klaunzer

However, the new motion brought by the SVP is now finding unexpectedly large support among the other parties: The SP agrees with the initiative, as well as the Centre parties and the Greens. Only The FDP (Free Democratic Party – the Liberals) and the Green Liberals are against it.

The SP presents proposals for a compromise
The motion could therefore be approved – but it will take time before it is through parliament. The SVP wants to quickly bring about a new decision by the Federal Council, however. The number of vaccine-sceptics among the party's rank and file is large. A survey by the Sotomo Institute has shown that 51% of SVP sympathizers do not want to be vaccinated. Among the supporters of the other major Swiss parties, only around 10% reject the vaccination.

Cédric Wermuth, co-president of the SP (Socialist party), says: "We are pleased that the SVP wants to correct its mistake after its two Federal Councillors caused the original problem."

The inequality is too great, says Wermuth: "For those who are wealthy, the costs of corona tests are not significant. For people who don't earn as much, however, they are a burden."

The Social Democrats are suggesting new solutions: Those who take a corona test could be obliged to pay part of the costs. Or: the number of tests per month could be limited for each person. "We are open to a compromise," emphasizes Cédric Wermuth.

It's not very often that the Green party supports a motion by the SVP. Party president Balthasar Glättli now says: "The more tests of unvaccinated people are carried out, the sooner will it be possible to dampen the Delta wave without a new increase in hospitalisations."

Meanwhile, Andrea Gmür, a Mitte party member of the Council of States (Ständeratin), points out that the mood in parts of the population is very heated. "We should take the pressure out of the system. If the tests remain free, choice remains, and no one can claim that vaccination is compulsory."

FDP and Green Liberals against all other parties
Jürg Grossen, the president of the Green Liberals, makes a new proposal: the cost obligation for corona tests should not be introduced from the beginning of October, but from November. "In this way, all those people who have only decided late to be vaccinated, or who can persuade themselves to do so will not be exposed to excessive pressure."

The FDP stands by the cost obligation. "It is reasonable to maintain a certain pressure, so that Switzerland will achieve a high vaccination rate," says parliamentary group leader Beat Walti. In his opinion, however, it would be good if conventionally developed vaccines were soon widely on offer.

SVP Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer expressed his solidarity with corona sceptics and opponents of vaccination last Sunday, when he pulled on a T-shirt of the "Freedom Trychler" (Freiheitstrychler). These circles and his party expect him to quickly revise his opinion on the cost obligation for corona tests – even though this will add few tens of millions of francs to the federal budget.