June 24, 2020 / 12:08 PM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 1-Swiss gov't to assume COVID-19 test costs, launch tracing app

(Adds further detail and background)

ZURICH, June 24 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s government will pay for coronavirus testing, it said on Wednesday, as it approved the launch of its proximity tracing app from Thursday to prevent a resurgence of the virus as restrictions are relaxed.

The government said it would take over costs for all virus and antibody tests, and would simplify the system for testing, effective from Thursday, the same day when an app to alert individuals potentially exposed to the virus will go live.

Switzerland’s restrictions have been eased in recent weeks, with shops and schools reopening, along with restaurants - although with limits on the number of people allowed to be present.

Until now, coronavirus tests were partly paid for by the regional governments and individual health insurance schemes, meaning some people had to pay themselves.

“This scheme has meant that not all patients have been treated the same,” the government said. “There has been a danger that people are not being tested when they have to pay for it themselves.”

It said it would pay 169 Swiss francs ($178.72) for virus tests and 113 francs for antibody tests.

So far 1,682 people have died in Switzerland from COVID-19.

While the country’s infection rate has slowed, with 31,376 people testing positive for the virus, new infections ticked up on Wednesday, according to figures from the Federal Office of Health, with 44 more cases than the day before.

The government also on Wednesday approved regulations allowing its voluntary COVID-19 tracing app—with which it hopes to alert people potentially infected with the virus, so they can be quarantined and prevent its spreading—to go live.

Under the system, an infected person enters a code onto their mobile phone, and if they come within 1.5 metres of someone else with the app, a message is sent telling the exposed person they may have caught the virus, so they can be tested.

The app’s installation is voluntary and potentially exposed persons will only be notified with the express consent of the infected individual, the regulation says.

Proximity data will be destroyed after 14 days. ($1 = 0.9456 Swiss francs) (Reporting by John Revill; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi)

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