The coronavirus has hit Geneva harder than most Swiss cantons.
While the federal government continues to stall on implementing a mask requirement, cantonal authorities have a plan to get a mask on the face of every resident.
As reported by The Local Switzerland on June 24th, Health Minister Alain Berset has decided that putting in place a compulsory mask requirement is the responsibility of the cantons rather than the federal government.
The canton has already accumulated 10 million masks and has an ultimate target of 50 million by the end of the year.
With Geneva’s resident population at 500,000, it would mean the government is aiming for a stockpile of 100 for every person.
Geneva Health Director Mario Poggia, who has criticised the government’s failure to make masks a mandatory requirement on public transport, said the stockpile would ensure the masks were cheap and easy to find.
A spokesperson for the cantonal authorities told Swiss media that the goal was to have the masks for sale for 50 cents around the country – “a cost at least half cheaper as in supermarkets or pharmacies”.
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.
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
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.