Coronavirus: Swiss researchers develop breathable, transparent face masks

If a smile isn't seen, is it really a smile at all?

Coronavirus: Swiss researchers develop breathable, transparent face masks
A bus in France with a sign saying 'masks are compulsory'. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

It’s the question that plenty of us have asked when venturing out into the post-pandemic world in recent weeks. 

Switzerland has been somewhat of an outlier by not putting in place a compulsory mask requirement, unlike many of its neighbours. 

Nevertheless, the sight of face masks on Swiss streets is still increasing by the day, hiding an important social tool – the smile. 

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

While for some it may be an inconvenience, for the elderly and the hearing impaired it can make public interactions far more difficult. 

As a result, researchers from Switzerland’s EPFL’s EssentialTech Center and EMPA have developed a fully transparent face mask

A fund of one million francs has been raised and the masks will soon be produced on an industrial scale.

The masks are set to be produced in Switzerland, which is likely to please local health authorities. During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Switzerland experienced a shortage of masks due to having no local production facilities.

Switzerland became completely reliant on its neighbours, some of whom blocked mask shipments. 

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

The masks will be made from biomass, are completely transparent and breathable. They will be launched in early 2021 under the banner ‘HelloMasks’. 

While they will first be available to the medical community, they may be marketed to the general public in the future. 

Masks planned before the coronavirus outbreak

Klaus Schönenberger, the head of EPFL’s EssentialTech Center, said the idea came to him while working in Africa on the Ebola outbreak. 

He saw how nurses would pin pictures of themselves to their chests so people could see what they looked like while covered from head to toe in protective gear. 

“It was touching to see that nurses – covered from head to toe in protective gear – pinned photos of themselves on their chests so that patients could see their faces,” he said in a statement. 

“Looking online you can find prototypes of masks that are partly transparent, but they’re just normal masks with some of the fabric replaced by clear plastic.”

Instead, the masks are made from a polymer material that lets air and light through but is small enough to filter out viruses. 


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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad