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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for wearing masks in Switzerland?

From public transport to shops and protests, we break down the latest on the rules for wearing face masks in Switzerland.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for wearing masks in Switzerland?
A man wearing a mask cycles in Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

NOTE: From July 6th, new mask requirements will apply in Switzerland on public transport. Click here for updated information. 

The long-simmering stand off between the government and health experts over coronavirus face masks has come to a head in recent days, after the Federal Council rejected a mask requirement for public transport and stores at a meeting on June 19th

Instead of mirroring its neighbours, Switzerland issued an ‘urgent recommendation’ for wearing masks on public transport and appealed to Swiss commuters’ ‘personal responsibility’ to protect themselves and others. 

This adds to the existing recommendation to wear masks in retail stores. 

The Federal Council did however decide that masks are now compulsory for protests and rallies

As of Monday, March 22nd, protests can now include up to a maximum of 1,000 people. In practice however, the police has only enforced the measurers at smaller protests – i.e. earlier in the lockdown when the maximum was 5. 

Coronavirus rules: Does Switzerland have 'double standards' for protests? 

Are masks the responsibility of the canton? 

In avoiding implementing a mask requirement, the federal government argued only the cantons could do so.

At this stage, no Swiss canton has so far implemented a mask requirement. 

On Wednesday, Health Minister Alain Berset said cantons could make masks compulsory when the local situation warranted it. 

“If the epidemiological situation in a canton requires the introduction of a mask, then that is permissible,” he said.

“But the cantons have to coordinate well, because many people commute between cantons and are accordingly affected by such a measure.”

Cantonal health authorities are set to meet on Thursday, June 25th, to debate whether masks should be made compulsory in public transport. 

As reported in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Wednesday, cantonal authorities could decide to do so en masse or individually. 

A discarded mask on the train in Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

'This worries me'

Geneva Health Director Mario Poggia has called for a mandatory mask requirement in public transport as soon as possible. 

“At peak times, people are forced to get very close. That worries me,” he told Swiss media. 

Poggia said while each canton may decide to do so, a federally coordinated response was needed. 

“It would be difficult to convey why the obligation no longer applies as soon as a train crosses the border to the canton of Vaud.”

Lucerne Health Director Guido Graf agrees, saying a mask requirement is necessary and should be implemented across all cantons. 

Poggia says Geneva has already started accumulating masks and hopes to have 50 million by December to sell at rates “cheaper than supermarkets” so that the entire canton would be protected. 

Why no mask requirement? 

Swiss authorities have been reluctant to put in place mask requirements for a number of reasons, the main one being a lack of available masks. A study from June 18th showed only six percent of transit passengers wore masks in Swiss cities. 

The Association of Public Transport has a slightly higher estimate, saying that approximately one in 10 Swiss commuters wears a mask on public transport. 

Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Switzerland was completely reliant on its neighbours for manufacturing masks – with none being made locally.

As a result Switzerland was reluctant to put in place a mask requirement, noting that available masks should be kept for healthcare workers

During the height of the pandemic, neighbouring countries like Germany and France blocked shipments of masks and other protective equipment to Switzerland, saying they were needed at home

While machines, which can be used to make masks, were imported into Switzerland in April and production began in May, Swiss politicians have said the country should learn the lessons of the coronavirus and begin manufacturing their own personal protective equipment. 

READ: Swiss researchers develop breathable, transparent face masks 

Commuters wear masks in Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

'You need masks'

Stefan Kuster, who recently took over from Daniel Koch as the chief of the Swiss Communicable Diseases Department, is a more staunch advocate of mask usage in public transport than Koch. 

In an interview, Kuster said “you need masks” when referring to people using public transport. 

Germany introduced mask requirements in all of its 16 states in late April in public transport and shops. Some states also made it a requirement in other public spaces. As of mid-June, the requirement is set to remain valid for the foreseeable future. 

Italy also put in place a mask requirement in April. In France, a mask requirement came into place in early May.

 

 

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TAXES

Masks, tests and jabs: Can I deduct Covid-related costs from my taxes in Switzerland?

Switzerland’s tax deadline is just around the corner. Are Covid-related costs tax deductible?

Masks, tests and jabs: Can I deduct Covid-related costs from my taxes in Switzerland?

March 31st is the deadline for filing taxes in Switzerland relating to the 2021 financial year. 

Over the past two years, the Covid pandemic has seen a change in our spending habits. 

While we may have saved on restaurants and travel, we laid out considerable costs on a range of new expenses, including disinfectant, masks and Covid tests. 

As some of these costs are required by law, can they be deducted from your tax?

In some cases, expenses directly related to the Covid pandemic can be deducted. 

Masks, for instance, can be deducted as medical expenses in some cantons, Swiss tax specialist Markus Stoll told 20 Minutes

This depends on the specific framework for tax deductions related to medical expenses in that canton. 

EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Switzerland?

Generally speaking, any medical costs paid out of pocket can be deducted. However, most cantons impose a minimum percentage limit from which these costs can be deducted. 

In many cantons, this will start at five percent of your yearly income in total (i.e. including other out-of-pocket costs like dental or specialist visits), meaning you would need to purchase a significant amount of masks to beat the threshold. 

What about testing and vaccination?

Testing and vaccinations however were largely free as their costs were covered by the Swiss government, which means associated expenses cannot be deducted. 

Those tests which were not covered by the government – for instance for travel abroad or for visiting clubs – cannot be deducted, Stoll says. 

“Tests for travel abroad or to visit clubs are not deductible” Stoll said. 

For a complete overview of taxation in Switzerland, including several specific guides, please check out our tax-specific page here. 

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