Should coronavirus masks be made free for those in need in Switzerland?

Several cantons have started handing out face masks to people in need - should this be embraced across the country?

Should coronavirus masks be made free for those in need in Switzerland?
A railway employee hands out free masks. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Masks are now required on public transport and in shops and nightlife venues in some cantons. 

With many residents of Switzerland already struggling to make ends meet, the additional costs of masks have placed additional pressure on some of the country’s neediest residents. 

The head of social work group Avenir 50 in Basel told Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes that some of the cantons poorer residents have already said they plan to walk rather than take public transport as they can’t afford face masks. 

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

A box of 50 disposable masks costs approximately CHF35 francs in Switzerland, while reusable masks cost more. 

Free masks for those in need?

The Caritas relief organisation has started distributing free protective masks to those in poverty, while everyone who shops at a Caritas location will receive a free mask. 

In addition, social authorities in several cantons have made some masks available for some of the more vulnerable members of Swiss society. 

READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's new compulsory mask requirement 

In Basel, the Basel Social Department will distribute 7,000 masks to welfare recipients and other people in need. 

Several municipalities in the canton of Zurich have also started a similar scheme by reimbursing all social welfare recipients for the money spent on masks if they can show a receipt.

Similar schemes have been developed in cantons of Zug and Aargau, although there is as yet no plan to do so at a federal level.  


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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