Switzerland’s new outdoor mask requirement: Everything you need to know

Switzerland’s new outdoor mask requirement: Everything you need to know
Photo: Stefan WERMUTH / AFP
From Thursday, October 29th, masks will be required in indoor and outdoor spaces across Switzerland. Here’s what you need to know.

Just over a fortnight after Switzerland expanded mask rules to all publicly accessible indoor areas, on Wednesday, October 28th, the federal government expanded the rules once again. 

What are the new rules? 

From midnight on Friday, October 29th, masks should be worn outdoors in certain areas. 

READ: Switzerland announces sweeping new Covid-19 restrictions

In addition, masks are also be required in all publicly accessible indoor spaces, such as markets, waiting areas for buses and trains, etc. 

These rules are in addition to the existing compulsory mask requirement. 

From October 19th, masks have been required in indoor areas. 

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.”

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

Diners at restaurants are be allowed to remove their masks when sitting down to eat. 

Masks are required at the workplace – including all offices – unless one cannot be worn for safety reasons. 

Under what circumstances do masks need to be worn outdoors?

One of the most confusing areas of the new rules has been the requirement that masks be worn outside in some situations. 

While this has been defined differently by various media outlets – with some saying ‘urban’ areas and others saying ‘residential’ areas – Swiss Health Minister Berset clarified that masks must be worn in all outdoor areas where “the concentration of people does not allow the necessary distances to be respected”.

Put simply, if you can’t keep 1.5 metres from people you will need to wear a mask – even when you’re outdoors. 

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. 

Who will patrol public transport to ensure enforcement? 

Railway police and security services will patrol public transport to ensure compliance with the requirement. 

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, cafe or bar 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.

READ: ‘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 does 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 in early July 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.

In late October, Berset clarified that the delay in implementing the rule was due at least in part to a potential mask shortage. 

“Yes, we didn't have enough masks . So we had to think about it. And in lockdown everything was closed, there was no mask requirement” Berset told 20 Minutes.

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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