Switzerland is warning people not to storm pharmacies next Wednesday when free COVID-19 self-tests become available, saying a rush of pandemic-weary test seekers would overwhelm the system.
Infections are rising anew in all 26 Swiss cantons with health officials expecting daily new cases could double within the next three weeks. Nine in 10 new cases have variants of the coronavirus, primarily the one first documented in Britain.
While neighboring Germany has been offering self-testing kits for several weeks, in Switzerland they will be available only from next week, after the Easter holiday.
Swiss residents will be able to get five free home test kits monthly, saving them from having to go to a doctor for the procedure. But Martine Ruggli, head of the pharmacy industry group PharmaSuisse, warned people not to come all at once.
“It’s very important that not everybody storms into the pharmacies on the first day because then we couldn’t manage the crush,” Ruggli told a news conference.
“Daily, 320,000 people visit Swiss pharmacies. If suddenly one or two million people come on one day to get these tests, it won’t be possible to serve all customers...Please, have a little patience.”
Swiss health authorities have cautioned that self-tests are less accurate than industry-standard PCR tests and specialist-administered rapid tests, with the potential for false negatives higher, in part because a high viral load in the nasal passageways is often necessary to attain a reliable result.
Consequently, self-tests should be used more as an indicator, not relied on as definitive proof of infection or no infection, they say. Home tests still require a nasal swab, because less-demanding “spit tests” are not yet sufficiently accurate.
The wealthy Alpine republic has reported 1,923 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday and 19 more deaths, mostly younger, more mobile people. That brings the total to nearly 600,000 infections and 9,662 deaths since the pandemic began.
About 535,000 people, or 6 percent of the Swiss population, are now fully vaccinated.