Swiss health chiefs warn ‘visors no substitute for face masks’

Swiss health chiefs have reiterated that plastic visors are no replacement for face masks in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Swiss health chiefs warn 'visors no substitute for face masks'
Photo: Philip FONG / AFP

After a much-publicised incident in a hotel in the eastern canton of Graubünden where only staff wearing plastic visors were infected, Swiss health officials told The Local that plastic visors are only a “complementary” form of protection in addition to face masks. 

READ: ‘Only those with plastic visors were infected': Swiss government warns against face shields 

The officials did however stop short of making a federal recommendation that plastic visors were insufficient, saying it was up to the cantons to set the appropriate rules. 

Daniel Dauwalder, spokesperson for the Federal Office of Public Health, told The Local that the government’s official position was that visors are “no substitute for face masks”. 

“They protect the eyes from possible infection through droplets, but the possibility of infection via the nose or mouth cannot be excluded,” Dauwalder said. 

“Visors only serve as a complementary form of protection measure in conjunction with a mask.”

As reported by The Local Switzerland in mid-July, health officials in the canton of Graubünden studying a recent outbreak among staff at a hotel found a worrying trend – all of those who were infected wore plastic face shields, while those who avoided infection wore face masks.

Several employees of the hotel tested positive along with a guest. Rudolf Leuthold, head of the cantonal health department in Graubünden, said the face shields were the common denominator in infections. 

“It has been shown that only those employees who had plastic visors were infected. There was not a single infection among employees with a mask.” 

Leuthold told Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes that a guest of the hotel was also infected: “We know that the guest was served by employees with plastic visors.”

‘The cantons remain responsible’ 

Dauwalder told The Local that cantonal officials were best placed to decide whether masks should be required in service rather than plastic visors. 

“Cantons remain responsible for the implementation and control of adequate precautionary measures in businesses/institutions/events within their jurisdiction,” he said. 

“That’s also why the canton of Graubünden has published the statement you covered in your story and other cantons have made masks obligatory for waiters/waitresses in the gastro business.”

The cantons of Geneva and Ticino, among some of the heaviest hit by the virus on a per capita basis, have put in place compulsory mask requirements for all bar and restaurant staff. 


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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