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HEALTH

Will the public support Switzerland’s coronavirus tracing app?

Switzerland's COVID-19 contact-tracing app will roll out to the public on Thursday, the government said, urging everyone to download it on their smartphones.

Will the public support Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app?
Will you download Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The free SwissCovid application uses Bluetooth wireless technology to register other phones that come within two metres for around 15 minutes or so.

It then alerts people who may unwittingly have been in prolonged proximity with someone who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Q&A: How will Switzerland's coronavirus tracing app work?

“We want to stem the uncontrolled spread of the new coronavirus,” the government said Wednesday in a statement.

“The more people use the app, the better we can achieve this goal.”

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for wearing masks in Switzerland?

The app is optional and no personal data or location information is used. Anyone who tests positive for the virus is given a code by the regional health services to enter into the app.

Other app users who spent time in close proximity are anonymously informed, told which day the contact happened on, and are given information on what to do next.

The app was originally road-tested by army conscripts. 

Easing restrictions

Some 1,681 people have died in Switzerland out of nearly 31,300 who have tested positive for the virus in a country of 8.5 million people.

However, infection, hospitalisation and death rates having been low and stable for some weeks.

Switzerland stopped short of imposing strict confinement when it introduced measures in mid-March aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus.

It began gradually easing its restrictions on April 27, with a fourth stage on Monday lifting the maximum limit on gatherings to 1,000.

“Even if the Federal Council continues to ease the measures, the coronavirus crisis is not yet behind us. Sustained efforts are needed to prevent the infection rate from rising again,” the government said.

The government also announced that COVID-19 tests would be free for everyone from Thursday, covering the cost of an infection test which can be as high as 169 Swiss franc ($178, 158 euro).

UPDATED: Swiss government to cover costs of coronavirus tests for all app users

“The risk was therefore that some people would give up testing if they had to pay for it,” it said.

Will it be compulsory? 

No. The app is voluntary. 

The government has also promised that the app will be discontinued when the virus can be brought under control by other means. 

Some Swiss politicians have argued that the app must be made mandatory. 

SVP councillor Andrea Gmür said “for the app to be effective, it needs to be mandatory during the acute emergency phase”. 

At this stage however the government has said it will remain voluntary. 

Photo: OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP

How much will it cost?

The app is free for all smartphone users. 

Will it be effective? 

With contact tracing apps proving effective in several Asian countries, researchers have been looking to implement something similar in Switzerland. 

There have however been privacy protection issues, as well as concerns that it will not be effective unless it is downloaded by at least 60 percent of Swiss society. 

EXPLAINED: How will the post-lockdown tracing system look in Switzerland? 

Researchers from Oxford University have said that the app will be ineffective with a lower percentage signup. 

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CANNABIS

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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