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.