What’s the punishment for ignoring coronavirus measures in Switzerland?

What happens if I fail to wear a mask on public transport or in shops in Switzerland? Geneva-based law firm Page and Partners clarifies.

What's the punishment for ignoring coronavirus measures in Switzerland?
Women take part to a protest on September 12, 2020 in Geneva against compulsory mask-wearing in public indoor places. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Geneva-based lawyer Renuka Cavadini and Angela Carvalho from Swiss law firm Page & Partners breaks down the consequences for failing to comply with coronavirus measures in Switzerland. 

The COVID-related pandemic began to propagate again during this summer of 2020. 

In an attempt to combat the risk of contamination, the Federal Council took protective measures on 6th July 2020.

One of these measures has been to make the wearing of a mask compulsory on public transport (buses, planes and trains in particular).

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

Since the 19th October 2020, the compulsory wearing of a mask has been extended by the Federal Council to all enclosed spaces accessible to the public.

The term “enclosed spaces accessible to the public”, means “shops, shopping centres, banks, post offices, museums, libraries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, enclosed spaces in botanical gardens and zoos, restaurants, bars, discos, game arcades and casinos, hotels (except for rooms), entrance halls and changing rooms in swimming pools, sports’ rooms and fitness centres, doctors' offices, hospitals, places of worship, advisory offices (including law firms) and communal recreation centres. It is also compulsory in all areas of the public administration accessible to the public” and on station platforms and bus/tram stops.

This obligation does not apply to children under the age of 12, nor to persons who may be exempted from wearing a mask for medical reasons.

All of the above is regulated in the Ordinance on Measures to Combat the Epidemic of COVID-19 in Special Situations (RS 818.101.26) of 19 June 2020, amended on 18 October 2020, the new content of which entered into force on 19 October 2020.

What happens when a person is not wearing a face mask in one of the places mentioned above?

The above-mentioned Ordinance provides for penal administrative sanctions against any person who contravenes the protective measures i.e. a fine.

However, the only person who can be held liable under the Ordinance is the operator or organiser of events accessible to the public who intentionally violates the obligations incumbent upon him/her, more particularly the wearing of a face mask, hygiene and distance measures.

Thus, a private individual not wearing a mask on a railway platform, for example, would in theory not be liable to fines, for lack of an explicit legal basis.

However, they might be forbidden from entering a train without a mask. They would also most likely not be reimbursed for their train ticket.

If the unmasked person is allowed to enter the train, it would be the transport operator who would be fined.

The Swiss federal law to combat epidemics authorises cantonal authorities to fine individuals (a maximum of 5000 CHF in case of negligence) for not complying with the following requirements of the authorities:

a)     Not informing the cantonal doctor of their state of health and contact with third parties if they are ill, presumed ill, infected or presumed infected.

b)     Refusing a Covid-19 test when ordered to do so by a doctor.

c)     When entering Switzerland and ordered to do so, refusing medical supervision, quarantine, medical examination or medical treatment.

d)     Leaving the country when you have been forbidden to do so by the authorities because you are ill or presumed ill.

If the number of infections does not decrease by 28th October 2020, the Federal Council has already announced, during its meeting on 21 October 2020, that further protective measures will be introduced, which could be accompanied by administrative penal sanctions against individuals.

READ: What to expect from the Swiss government's lockdown meeting on Wednesday

This was already the case in April this year in the French speaking part of Switzerland when hundreds of people in Geneva, Vaud and Neuchatel were fined between CHF 400 to 800 CHF per person for private gatherings in public of more than five people.

The fine is discretionary and there is no ceiling mentioned.

Since the 19th October 2020, the restriction in Geneva is of maximum five adults for any private gathering. Children under 12 are not counted but cannot exceed five.

Therefore, only gatherings of five adults and five children are permitted.


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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