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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

EXPLAINED: What is monkeypox and what is Switzerland doing about it?

Switzerland has reported its first monkeypox patient on Saturday, but with over 80 cases across the world to date, Swiss officials are preparing to handle the eventual increase in the number of infections.

EXPLAINED: What is monkeypox and what is Switzerland doing about it?

The first case so far was detected in Bern in a person who was “exposed to the virus abroad”, according to the statement by cantonal officials, who did not specify in which country the patient could have been infected.

The traveller is receiving outpatient treatment and self-isolating. Close contacts have been informed through contact tracing.

READ MORE: Switzerland confirms first monkeypox case

While Swiss health officials currently assess the risk of contracting monkeypox as low outside rural areas of Central and West Africa, “the epidemiological data is still limited”, said Céline Gardiol, head of the vaccination section at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

“However, it can be assumed that more infections can also occur here, as is the case in other countries”, she added.

What measures are Swiss health authorities taking?

For the time being, “the epidemiological situation is being monitored in cooperation with international health authorities and experts, according to FOPH’s vice-president Linda Nartey.

FOPH is also recommending that the cantons carry out contact tracing in proven cases and isolate those who test positive — all of which has an eerie sense of déjà-vu.

“The cantonal systems are in place and ready to be deployed. Quarantines are not currently planned”.

There is no specific vaccine against monkeypox, tough first- and second-generation smallpox vaccines provided effective protection. But they were discontinued in 1972 when the World Health Organisation declared that the disease was successfully eradicated.

There is now also a third-generation smallpox vaccine that is approved for adults in Europe but not yet in Switzerland, as the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic, has not received any approval request from the manufacturers.

However, Narty said Switzerland is examining the possibility of buying these vaccines.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox, Affenpocken in German, vaiolo delle scimmie in Italian and variole du singe in French is a zoonotic virus (a virus spread from animals to humans) that most often occurs in areas of tropical rainforest in Central and West Africa.

However, it is occasionally found in other regions, and cases have recently been discovered in Europe, North America, and Australia.

The name monkeypox originates from the initial discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958, according to WHO. The first human case was identified in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970.

Monkeypox virus is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding. The incubation period of monkeypox is usually from 6 to 13 days but can range from 5 to 21 days.

People can also be infected through contact with the lesions of the skin, blood, tissues, or excretions of infected animals (mainly rodents) and by handling the meat of sick animals.

The disease is not known to be sexually transmitted. Still, close contact between people during sex can make the transmission of the virus easier.

How contagious and dangerous is monkeypox ?

According to FOPH, immunocompromised people, as well as children and young adults who have become infected seem to have a higher risk of a severe course of the disease, whose symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and chickenpox-like skin rash.

Most people affected by the disease recover within a few weeks.

It takes a close, direct contact with the infected person, for instance by touching skin lesions, to become contaminated. Infectious disease specialist Jan Fehr confirmed that monkeypox virus is not transmitted through air, like coronavirus.

Many of the cases presented are in men who have sexual relations with other men and health authorities have asked for extra care and are studying current cases.

And this brings is to the question that is likely on everyone’s mind right now.

Is monkeypox as contagious as Covid and will there be another pandemic?

“Based on what is known about the virus, one can assume that it is less transmissible than the coronavirus”, Nartey pointed out.

She added that at the moment there is no indication of another pandemic emerging in Switzerland or elsewhere.

However, the evolution of the disease must be closely observed, she said.

“We have to watch the outbreaks and in each case carry out contact tracing immediately to quickly interrupt any transmission chains”.

Tracing became widespread during the Covid pandemic to identify, and quarantine, people who were in contact with an infected person.

READ MORE: Q&A: How will Switzerland’s coronavirus tracing app work?

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