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UPDATE: Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s compulsory mask requirement

UPDATE: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's compulsory mask requirement
Commuters with masks in Lausanne. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Switzerland has imposed a mask requirement on public transport from Monday, July 6th, onwards. Here's what you need to know.

NOTE: This report was last updated on October 13th, 2020. Switzerland imposed a nationwide set of mask rules on October 29th. Click here for more information

In a press conference on Wednesday, July 1st, the Swiss government announced a surprising turn.

The Federal Council announced a mask requirement for public transport – more than two months after masks were made compulsory in neighbouring countries. 

READ: Masks to be compulsory in Swiss public transport

The mask requirement in public transport will be enforced from Monday, July 6th. 

As yet, masks will not be compulsory in shops, bars, restaurants or supermarkets in Switzerland on a federal level.

However, as at October 13th, 12 cantons have decided that masks will be required in shops and supermarkets in their cantonal boundaries:  Zurich, Zug, Basel City, Bern, Geneva, Fribourg, Valais, Solothurn, Ticino, Neuchâtel, Vaud and Jura.

Two more – Schaffhausen and Schwyz – will require masks from October 16th. In Schwyz, the rule will only apply where minimum distance cannot be kept. 

Masks are also required in restaurants and bars in Geneva, JuraVaud along with Bern.

In Schwyz, while the mask rule also applies to bars, it will only apply where minimum distance cannot be kept.

In Zurich, masks will be required in bars and restaurants which are not exclusively seated

MAPS: Where are masks mandatory in shops, bars and restaurants in Switzerland? 

Masks are required at universities in Fribourg and Bern. 

In June, Switzerland put in place its first mask requirement, with masks compulsory at protests and demonstrations. 

Here's everything you need to know about Switzerland's new mask requirement. 

Why did Switzerland wait until July to make masks compulsory on public transport?

Switzerland has for months been reluctant to make masks compulsory, despite this being the case in Germany, Italy, France and Austria for since late April. 

In a statement, the government said “Given the increase in coronavirus cases since mid-June, the Federal Council decided to strengthen the protective measures and took the decision in principle to introduce the general obligation to wear the mask in all public transport.”

READ: Why did it take Switzerland so long to make masks compulsory?

Health Minister Alain Berset said during a press conference that the new requirement was needed, particularly with the continued increase in infection numbers across the country. 

“With the increasing numbers, we have observed a new trend: We find that the numbers are increasing slightly again. At the same time, the emergency is over and the cantons and the Confederation share responsibility for this development,” he said. 

“We found that our neighbouring countries have stricter rules than we do,” says Berset. “Because of the increasing number of cases, we have decided to introduce the national mask requirement to prevent a second wave in Switzerland.

“So far, we have weathered the situation well with the entire population. It is therefore very important that the distance and hygiene rules continue to be observed and that the contact details are given

“We stand together to continue fighting the epidemic.”

Why were transit riders given almost a week until the requirement became law?

Although the Federal Council said wearing masks was urgently necessary, the requirement won't be in place until Monday – five days after the Wednesday announcement. 

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga explained the five-day waiting period until the requirement came into place, saying it was necessary to give transit companies time to adapt. 

“The transport companies need a minimal amount of time. It will take you a few days to implement this. Fines or sanctions are not distributed, but it is a duty to abide by the mask requirement.”

Who must wear a mask? 

Everyone aged 12 or over must wear a mask in public transport. 

Children (i.e. up until the age of 11) are exempt from the mask requirement. 

In those cantons where masks are required in indoor areas, the requirement only applies from the age of 12. 

Who will patrol public transport to ensure enforcement? 

Railway police and security services will patrol public transport to ensure compliance with the requirement. 

Commuters with masks in Lausanne. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

What about if I don't want to wear one? 

Masks are compulsory and there is no right of refusal. If you don't wear one, you will be asked to get off at the next stop.

There are no fines for objecting – you will be told to exit the vehicle. If you refuse, you may be fined or sanctioned for disobedience – not for failing to wear a mask. 

Conscientious objectors, no matter how good their conspiracy theory is, should learn to cycle. 

What if the train is empty?

Even if you're alone, you still need to wear the mask. 

What kind of masks are required? 

The main goal of the regulation is to have the nose and the mouth covered.

This includes medical standard hygiene masks or surgical masks, but it also includes textile or cloth masks.

The recommendation allows those which are home made, however using a store-bought mask specifically made for preventing transmission of the virus is recommended. 

Scarves or other cloth coverings will not satisfy the mask requirement. Health authorities say such masks only provide limited protection against infection and therefore do not count as masks. 

What about plastic face shields?

The health department of the canton of Graübunden has warned face shield wearers that they offer little protection against the virus.

Plastic visors are also not effective at preventing an infected person from sharing the virus, the doctor warned.

The plastic shields are especially popular in hospitality and beauty services such as hairdressing.

‘They are ineffective': Swiss cantonal doctor warns against face shields 

However cantonal doctor Marina Jamnicki said not only are they less effective than face masks, they may provide wearers with a false sense of security.

Plastic face shields should be worn in tandem with a face mask, say cantonal authorities.

What modes of transport will it apply to?

The mask requirement will apply in all trains, trams, buses and on cable cars and ski lifts. Transport on ships and ferries will also be included. 

Was a mistake made in waiting so long?

Asked at the press conference if the Swiss government erred in waiting to put the mask requirement in place, Berset said it was only necessary now as more and more people came back to using public transport. 

“When everything was closed, it made no sense to impose a mask,” he said.

“We never said that masks don't protect. Now that more people are on the road again, it makes sense to wear a mask where the distances cannot be maintained.

Why not in shops, clubs or elsewhere? 

Berset said it was the responsibility of the cantons to put in place mask requirements in nightclubs, while in shops masks would remain recommended rather than required. 

“With the clubs, responsibility now lies with the cantons. A mask requirement in the club is one possibility. Closing clubs is also a measure that the cantons can now take.”

UPDATE: Where in Switzerland are masks compulsory right now? 

“You can keep your distance in the fresh air, there is no need for a mask. Masks must be worn at demonstrations.”

However, as at October 13th, 12 cantons have decided that masks will be required in shops and supermarkets in their cantonal boundaries:  Zurich, Zug, Basel City, Bern, Geneva, Fribourg, Valais, Solothurn, Ticino, Neuchâtel, Vaud and Jura.

Two more – Schaffhausen and Schwyz – will require masks from October 16th.

In Schwyz, while the mask rule also applies to bars, it will only apply where minimum distance cannot be kept. 

In Zurich, masks will be required in bars and restaurants which are not exclusively seated

Masks are also required in restaurants and bars in Geneva, JuraVaud and Bern

Where can I get a mask? 

While homemade masks will satisfy the requirement, they are not recommended. 

Masks are however available everywhere in Switzerland, including in supermarkets, pharmacies, kiosks and also in vending machines. 

Masks can also be ordered online, however be sure to trust the sender. 

Geneva is stockpiling masks and hopes to accumulate 50 million by December – 100 for every resident of the canton. Geneva plans to make them available for 50 cents per mask at a rate “cheaper than supermarkets”. 

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

Since August 15th, masks have been required in all airlines that land or take off from Switzerland. 


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