Coronavirus: Basel-Stadt plans targeted mass tests

05/03/2021 (14:00)
Press release
Department of Health

The Department of Health today submitted its concept for coronavirus mass testing to the Federal Office of Public Health. The concept provides for targeted, widespread testing in schools, businesses, sociomedical institutions and for the general population in selected situations. The Department of Health will begin pilot projects following approval. The Department of Health is setting up a sustainable testing system that is open for further developments, for example in the tests used.

By extending its testing strategy to asymptomatic individuals, the Canton of Basel-Stadt is following a situational approach that makes flexible use of the infrastructure. The aim is to achieve a balanced cost/benefit relationship. Targeted, widespread testing to find asymptomatic coronavirus carriers is supposed to engender public acceptance of asymptomatic testing.

The Canton of Basel-Stadt is using an extended testing strategy that focuses on risks: It is setting up a risk-based, targeted procedure and a sustainable testing system that will be valid in the long term and that is open for further technological developments. Where it makes sense, more extensive testing will be set up involving the 70 testing offers that already exist in the canton. Large-scale, systematic mass testing of entire sections of the population (e.g. young people) is not planned at the moment.

The targeted Basel concept currently uses both saliva PCR tests in a pooling method and antigen rapid tests, which have been validated by the Federal Government. Material and laboratory costs for tests in areas with a high transmission risk are financed by the Federal Government. The decision about which type of test to use is made based on the situation, taking into consideration various factors such as risk situation, acceptance and testing capacity. The testing methodology is currently undergoing many developments. For example, self-testing at home might be possible for people in the foreseeable future. Flexible, rapidly adaptable solutions are therefore crucially important.

The concept provides for increased testing especially among at-risk individuals and in populations with increased transmission risk, with the aim of preventing and controlling outbreaks of infection. The tests are voluntary for all individuals.

Testing in schools

With regard to coronavirus cases in schools, the extensive testing strategy primarily aims to test a wider spectrum of pupils than before in order to also identify asymptomatic virus carriers. The focus here is on two areas: extended outbreak management and repetitive, targeted testing in local hotspots. If an area experiences an increase in the number of new infections, nurseries and schools can be repeatedly tested using pooled saliva tests. Serial (e.g. weekly) testing over a defined period is possible.

Extended outbreak investigations in schools are starting this month, March. Only testing close contacts of class members who test positive is no longer recommended. The offer of testing is now extended to the wider school environment.

Participation in testing is voluntary in all cases described. Parents will be informed and written consent obtained.

Testing in businesses and organisations with and without increased transmission risk

Repetitive testing of asymptomatic individuals is also supposed to be carried out in businesses. The focus here is particularly on the following businesses:

  • Businesses with an increased likelihood of transmission or with an increased risk of outbreaks (unavoidable close contact between members of staff e.g. in restaurant kitchens or on production lines)
  • Businesses with lots of cross-border commuters from countries with high frequencies of illness (prevalence)
  • Systemically important services (e.g. police, fire, rescue, energy supply)

A pilot project in the first business will be starting in mid-March. The concept will then be tested, continually extended and rolled out to as many businesses as possible. Participation is voluntary but should be supported by the canton.

Businesses will be asked to carry out testing following the pilot phase. The decision about possible coverage of costs will be taken after the concepts have been sent in. Support for setting up independent serial testing will also be offered to businesses without an increased transmission risk.

Testing in sociomedical institutions

The Canton of Basel-Stadt has already been offering nursing homes regular preventive rapid tests since 20 January 2021. Saliva PCR tests using a pooling method will now soon be offered.

Hospitals, care and nursing homes and other sociomedical institutions will receive professional and conceptual support to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks among particularly high-risk individuals. The aim is to reduce the overall risk with targeted, widespread testing of groups of people (staff, visitors) who come into direct contact with individuals who are at particularly high risk.

Testing of travellers and cross-border commuters

As a medium-term objective, the Canton of Basel-Stadt is aiming to ease the strain on travellers from regions with an increased transmission risk. Travellers from these regions will have the chance to volunteer for testing, even if they don’t have any symptoms. Testing will also be possible for cross-border commuters if this is required for crossing the border