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Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s nationwide mask requirement

What are the rules for mask wearing in Switzerland?

Everything you need to know about Switzerland's nationwide mask requirement

From Thursday, October 29th, masks will be required in indoor and outdoor spaces across Switzerland, meaning this guide is now out of date. Here's what you need to know about the rules which apply as of end October 2020. 

On Sunday, October 18th, Switzerland's Federal Council extended the nationwide mask requirement to include all publicly accessible indoor areas. 

The measures will apply from Monday, October 19th. 

READ: Swiss authorities impose tighter pandemic rules as cases jump

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

Where are masks required in Switzerland? 

Masks have been required in public transport in Switzerland since July 6th. 

The new requirement extends compulsory mask rules to all indoor areas. 

While some cantons had previously put such rules in place, they will now apply across the country. 

As reported by Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes, this includes: “shops, shopping centres, banks, post offices, museums, libraries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, interiors of zoological and botanical gardens and animal parks, restaurants, bars, discos, gaming salons, hotels (with the exception of guest rooms), entrance and entrance areas Cloakrooms in swimming pools, sports facilities and fitness centres, in medical practices, hospitals, churches and religious institutions.”

Besides people having to wear masks in bars and restaurants now in every canton, consumption of food and drinks can only take place while seated. 

This rule applies regardless of whether the venue is indoors or outdoors. 

Who must wear a mask? 

Everyone aged 12 or over must wear a mask. 

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

What happens to people who refuse to wear masks?

Good question. Technically speaking, breaching the mask requirement can lead to a fine of up to CHF10,000 under the Epidemics Act – although whether such a fine will be levied against an individual remains to be seen. 

Prosecution will be conducted by the cantons but will need a complaint to be lodged by a shop or bar owner in order to start the process. 

Michel Gerber, from the Federal Office of Public Health, said all punishments should be proportionate to the incident – implying that individuals are unlikely to receive such a high fine. 

As reported by Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes, the higher fines are more likely to be levied against business owners and event organisers. 

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 leave the venue or to get off at the next stop.

If you refuse, you may be fined or sanctioned for disobedience – not for failing to wear a mask. 

For example,  person was arrested for refusing to wear a mask in a shopping centre in the canton of Lucerne on October 17th. Police however clarified that the arrest was made because the man refused to exit the building. 

Conscientious objectors, no matter how good their conspiracy theory is, will not be able to avoid the requirement. 

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.

READ: Which masks sold in Switzerland are most and least effective against Covid-19? 

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.

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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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