Switzerland spent more than 500 million francs importing face masks

From March until June 2020, Switzerland spent more than half a billion francs on importing coronavirus face masks.

Switzerland spent more than 500 million francs importing face masks
Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga wearing a mask at an event in Ukraine. Photo: SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP

Figures from news agency AWP show the sheer scale of Switzerland’s importing of personal protective equipment, with imports of face masks alone amounting to 560 million francs. 

The vast majority of the masks were imported from China (93 percent). 

In a typical year, approximately 12 million francs would be spent per month on the import of personal protective textiles such as masks, indicating the scale of the increase. 

The expenditure is likely to be much higher now, as the figures run until June 30th. Switzerland put in place a compulsory mask requirement on public transport on July 6th, with some cantons extending the rules to shops. 

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

As reported in Swiss news outlet Watson, while the amount spent on masks can be determined, the number of masks imported cannot be accurately counted. 

An estimate from early July however showed that approximately 3.5 million masks are disposed of each day in Switzerland. 

Switzerland is heavily reliant on imports for personal protective equipment. 

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. 

While they have been produced, Swiss-made masks have as yet not hit shelves as they have failed certification standards

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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