UPDATED: How much can I be fined for failing to wear a mask in Switzerland?

Switzerland’s Federal Council has just made it easier for police to fine someone for failing to wear a mask.

UPDATED: How much can I be fined for failing to wear a mask in Switzerland?
A skier wearing a protective mask prepares to put on her helmet next to a Swiss flag above the ski resort of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In its session on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Federal Council made a number of decisions related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

In addition to making more funds available for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, the government also submitted changes to the Epidemics Act to make it easier for police to issue fines for minor violations of Switzerland’s mask requirement. 

Previously, while there was the scope to issue fines, this would require court action. As a result, minor violations – such as the refusal of an individual to wear a mask – were not punished, the major focus on businesses who failed to enforce the mask requirement. 

According to Swiss news outlet Watson: “Minor violations of the Epidemics Act such as violations of the obligation to wear a face mask should now be punishable with fines.”

In a press conference after the decision, Federal Council spokesman André Simonazzi said the goal was not to hand out thousands more fines. 

“We had this possibility in spring (to issue fines), now we have created it again. But it is not the goal to issue many fines.”

Ueli Maurer added that making it easier to levy fines “helps” in the fight against the virus. 

“We have to realise that things will only get better soon if we all stick to the measures. You can also fine people for demonstrations against the measures,” he said. 

“You can protest and complain, but if we don't bring the numbers down, it won't work. Sometimes a fine can help.”

How much I be fined for not wearing a mask? 

When making the announcement, the government did not comment on the amount someone has to pay for so-called “minor” violations of the mask requirement.

However on November 19th, Swiss authorities confirmed that the fine for failing to wear a mask will be variable but will be capped at CHF300

The fine must be paid within 30 days otherwise the case will be handed to a public prosecutor, where the overall cost can increase. 

Breaching other coronavirus measures 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. 

Pursuant to the Act, violations of the mask requirement can result in fines of up to CHF10,000 – while negligent violations can be punished with fines of CHF5,000. 

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. 

I love freedom. Can I legitimately refuse to wear a mask? 

Generally speaking, in areas where masks are compulsory, there is no right of refusal. If you don't wear one, you will be asked to leave the shop or venue, or to get off at the next stop if you’re on public transport.

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

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

For example, a 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 after being told to wear a mask – and was not punished for failing to wear a mask per se. 

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How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Switzerland’s health infrastructure is consistently rated among the best in the world, but how does it compare with other countries?

How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Whether in terms of politics, social system or economy, the Swiss often chart their own course, which fundamentally diverges from that of its European neighbours.

Healthcare is no exception.

The differences lie primarily in who finances the scheme — public versus private — and how the overall system functions.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system, which means everyone in the country is covered by insurance and has access to medical care.

In most countries, the government typically has control, to a lesser or greater extent, over funding, health insurance, and health providers.

In France, for instance, most healthcare costs are covered by the state healthcare system, known as assurance maladie, and this is funded by taxes – healthcare costs account for about 13 percent of the average person’s gross salary.

In Germany, health costs are shared by employers and workers, with employees paying 7.5 percent of their salaries into a public health insurance fund, and companies matching that amount.

Italy’s national, system, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or simply SSN, which is financed mainly though federal and regional taxes, automatically covers all residents. Medical care is largely free of charge at the point of service.

Public healthcare also exists in Austria, with certain portions of salaries being automatically deducted to fund the scheme. However, healthcare is free of charge for low-income people or those who who are disabled, studying, or retired.

Although no longer part of the EU, the UK health system is also based on state healthcare via the NHS. It is funded by taxes which account for about 4.5 percent of the average citizens’ gross income.

What about Switzerland?

The system here is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap — premiums are based on the canton of residence and age, costing 300 to 400 francs a month on average — but it is quite comprehensive; it includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

There are no employer-sponsored or state-run insurance programmes, and the government’s only role is to ensure that all insurance companies offer the same basic coverage to everyone and that they have the same pricing.

While companies can’t compete on prices or benefits offered by the basic compulsory insurance — which are defined by the Health Ministry — they can, and do, compete on supplemental polices which offer perks not included in the basic coverage.

READ MORE: What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

All policies have deductibles (also called co-pays) that can range from 300 to 2,500 francs a year.

After the deductible is reached, 90 percent of all medical costs will be covered by insurance, with 10 percent being paid by the patient; however, this co-pay is capped at 700 francs a year for adults and 350 francs for children under 18.

The government does subsidise healthcare for the low-income individuals and households – defined as those for whom insurance premiums exceed 10 percent of their income.

What percentage of a person’s income goes to health insurance premiums?

This depends on wages and premiums, for instance, whether a person chose the cheapest option with a high deductible or the expensive one with a 300-franc deductible.

Generally speaking, however, based on the average monthly income of just over 7,000 francs, about 6.5 percent is spent on premiums.

What happens if you don’t take out an health insurance policy?

Anyone who arrives in  Switzerland must get insured within three months. If you don’t, the government will choose one for you and send you the bill. If this happens you may end up with more expensive premiums than you might have gotten if you shopped around yourself.

If you are still delinquent on your payments, your healthcare will be restricted to emergencies only; any other non-urgent medical treatment will be denied, unless you pay for it out of pocket.

The pros and cons of the Swiss system

Let’s look at the ‘cons’ first. Basically, there is one: the cost.

Not only are insurance premiums high and steadily increasing, but, at 7,179 francs per capita, Switzerland has the third most expensive healthcare scheme in the world — behind only the United States ($12,318) and Germany ($7,383).

Unlike taxpayer-funded models, there is no price grading according to income, so people on a low income pay a high proportion of their income for healthcare than higher earners. 

However, the system is generally efficient, has an extensive network of doctors, as well as well-equipped hospitals and clinics.

Patients are free to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to see a specialist doctor in Switzerland without a referral

Waiting lists for medical treatments are relatively short.

According to a survey by the Organisation  for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) on how long patients in various countries typically wait for an appointment with a specialist, the share of people in Switzerland waiting a month or more is 23 percent, compared to 36 percent in France, 52 percent in Sweden, and 61 percent in Norway.