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HEALTH

Mask hysteria: Germany denies export ban despite blocking Swiss-bound medical supplies

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday denied putting in place an export ban on medical supplies, despite a Swiss-bound truck being stopped by customs officials. The Swiss government has however said it is prepared and has a large stock of protective equipment.

Mask hysteria: Germany denies export ban despite blocking Swiss-bound medical supplies
Photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

As reported by The Local Switzerland on Monday, March 9th, a truck containing approximately 240,000 protective masks was stopped by German customs before it could cross the border into Switzerland. 

There have been widespread media reports that Germany, along with other European countries such as France, have put in place restrictions on the export of medical supplies.

READ ALSO: Germany bans exports of gloves and masks over coronavirus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has however denied this, saying “there is no export ban. We just want to make sure the medical materials are in the right hands”. 

On Wednesday, another shipment – this time of surgical gloves which had been produced in China but were destined for Switzerland – was stopped in Germany. 

As reported in the Tages Anzeiger, the Swiss Economics Department said it was one of many shipments that had been detained in Germany. Another shipment was detained on Wednesday, this time from Italy. 

The situation is particularly severe for Switzerland as the country, unlike neighbours France and Germany, produces very little protective gear. 

Despite the dispute, the Swiss government has indicated that it has a significant stockpile of medical equipment – including more than one mask for every Swiss resident. 

Avoiding 'mask hysteria'

Health officials have frequently told the general public that healthy people should not wear masks and to refrain from purchasing them as they make it more difficult for sick people and medical professionals to access them. 

According to the WHO, around 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment.

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Some 3.4 percent of cases are fatal, according to the latest WHO figures. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Can Brits in Switzerland donate blood?

For many years, people coming from the United Kingdom were banned from donating their blood in Switzerland. This is what the situation is right now.

Reader question: Can Brits in Switzerland donate blood?

The ‘blood ban’ that extended to British citizens or those of any nationality who had lived in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), was implemented for safety purposes.

The reason was the so-called mad cow disease (BSE), which was particularly rampant in Great Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many people contracted and even died from the cattle-borne condition known scientifically as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

It is believed that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of the disease. 

While most of them got BSE from eating contaminated beef, “experience tells us that the disease could be transmitted from human to human via blood”, according to a BBC report.

As a result, a number of governments, including the Swiss, prohibited people from the UK to donate blood.

However, this rule is no longer in force in Switzerland.

According to Geneva’s university hospital (HUG), which is a member of the national blood transfusion network Blutspende and follows the same rules, only people who had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 for more than six months at a stretch still can’t donate blood.

This is a period when the BSE outbreak was at its worst in the UK.

If you had lived in Great Britain prior to or after that date, you can safely donate your blood.

Have there been any BSE cases in Switzerland?

About 465 cases had been reported in Switzerland between 1990 and 2020, with less than 20 deaths.

There are still isolated cases of BSE throughout Europe, but they are no longer a cause for as much concern as previously.

Can everyone donate blood in Switzerland?

Gay men are still not allowed to do so.

Under Swiss law, any man who has had sex with another man is prevented from donating blood for 12 months — the legislation was introduced during the the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, while the 12-month rule was introduced in 2017.

However, in March 2020, the National Council’s Commission for Social Security and Health said the rule was “no longer appropriate” and filed a motion to rescind it. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to clear way for gay and bisexual men to donate blood

Who else is prevented from donating blood?

According to Blutspende, these medical and other conditions disqualify people from donating blood in Switzerland:

  • Positive test for HIV (AIDS), syphilis, hepatitis C and hepatitis B
  • Prostitution
  • Past or present drug use by injection
  • Blood transfusion after 01.01.1980

These reasons could be a cause for deferral though not an outright ban:

  • Stay during the past six months in a region where malaria is endemic, without any health problem (in case of illness with fever, tell the doctor at the blood donation centre).
  • Suffering from a sexually transmitted disease during the past 12 months
  • Change of sexual partner during the past four months
  • Sexual intercourse with multiple partners during the past 12 months
  • Stay of six months or longer in the past 12 months in countries with a high HIV-prevalence

More information about blood donation in Switzerland can be found here.

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