‘Cheaper than supermarkets’: How Geneva plans to get coronavirus masks to every resident

One of Switzerland’s heaviest-hit cantons, Geneva is taking steps to get a protective mask on the face of every resident.

‘Cheaper than supermarkets’: How Geneva plans to get coronavirus masks to every resident
A man and a child wear a mask in Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

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. 

Member comments

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


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