Switzerland’s dilemma: What to do with the surplus of face masks?

Only a few weeks ago Switzerland suffered a shortage of masks to protect its population from Covid-19. Now the country is facing the reverse problem.

Switzerland’s dilemma: What to do with the surplus of face masks?
Switzerland has too many masks. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

When coronavirus hit the country at the beginning of March, face masks were scarce in Switzerland —pharmacies in most cantons sold out quickly after the first cases emerged.

The shortage became so severe that authorities had to order masks from abroad and purchase equipment to manufacture face coverings. 

Amid the shortage in April, the authorities vowed to order enough masks so that a million a day could be supplied to shops across the country — even though the Federal Council never made it mandatory to wear masks in public. Instead wearing masks was recommended in certain situations such as on public transport.

But now that groups of up to 300 people are permitted to gather, masks may be required if the  distance of two metres between people can't be maintained.

Now, however, the country is faced with a different problem: what to do with the surplus of masks it ordered at the height of the pandemic.

READ MORE: WHO interview: 'If our behaviour returns to normal Europe risks new waves of Covid-19' 

According to NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Swiss authorities and the military ordered around 250 million units between the end of March and the beginning of June. 

Nearly 40 million of these were handed over to the cantons and retailers at cost price.

Another 90 million masks are still in China or on their way to Switzerland, and 20 million units are stored in various warehouses throughout the country.

“Switzerland is sitting on millions of hygiene masks and no longer knows where to put them it”, the NZZ said.

The authorities have not yet said what they would do with the excess masks.

With the number of infections now averaging about 20 a day — and on many days even less, compared to over 1,000 during the pandemic — people in Switzerland no longer feel the urgency to protect themselves with a mask.

However, at least some of the surplus will likely still be sold: masks continue to be required or recommended at airports, on board planes, on public transportation, and in the event that the two-metre distance between individuals can’t be maintained.

Also, some people may be buying the masks as a precaution, to keep in the event the second wave of Covid-19 strikes Switzerland, as some experts predict it would — in which case masks may become scarce again. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”