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HEALTH

UPDATE: Is Switzerland set to introduce an FFP2 mask requirement?

Switzerland's cantons and the federal government are currently debating tightening the existing rules to require FFP2 masks. Will we see an FFP2 requirement soon?

UPDATE: Is Switzerland set to introduce an FFP2 mask requirement?
Photo: THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP
The Federal Office of Public Health, together with the Corona Task Force, is currently considering whether to follow suit with German-speaking Europe and require FFP2 masks in Switzerland. 
 
Cantonal authorities are also considering tightening the existing rules, with some experts saying FFP2 masks could be required in offices rather than public transport. 
 
Swiss users of the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) app got a shock recently when the app told them an FFP2 mask was required in order to travel. 
 
According to Swiss news site 20 Minutes however, the reason for the warning was that the train travelled through to Germany – where such masks are required. 
 
Germany and Austria adopt FFP2 requirement
 
After almost a year of encouraging their populations to wear any face covering they could get their hands on – including scarves or homemade cotton face coverings – Germany and Austria this week decided to make FFP2 masks compulsory in public transport. 

From January 25th FFP2 masks will be required in Austria’s shops, supermarkets and public transport. In Germany, FFP2 or medical masks are also set to be required in supermarkets and public transport.  

EXPLAINED: What are the details of Switzerland's new coronavirus restrictions? 

One of the major reasons for the new mask rules in Switzerland’s German-speaking neighbours has been the spread of the new virus variant, which is believed to be around 40 to 60 percent more infectious than known variants. 

Does Switzerland require FFP2 masks?

Despite Germany and Austria's decision, Switzerland has not followed suit. 

While FFP2 masks are required in hospitals in Switzerland – and the canton of Aargau has banned fabric masks – cotton and fabric masks, including home-made ones, are fine throughout the country. 

At the federal level, cotton masks still satisfy the mask requirement – although individual cantons are free to put in place stricter rules. 

The federal government ‘recommends against’ self-made and uncertified masks, but has issued no ban. 

Chief cantonal doctor Rudolf Hauri said FFP2 masks could be made compulsory in some circumstances, for instance in offices. 

“These are particularly circumstances with greater importance for aerosol formation, for example in narrow spaces with little ventilation” Hauri said. 

Hauri said the need for FFP2 masks was not as great in public transport, given that there is a higher degree of air circulation than in enclosed spaces like offices. 

Fabric masks are believed to hold back around 70 percent of aerosols, compared with 94 percent for FFP2 masks. 

The filtration is also of a higher level, meaning that FFP2 masks catch smaller particles than cotton or medical masks. 

Will Switzerland introduce FFP2 masks? 

Michael Riediker, an expert from the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, told Swiss media that Switzerland should phase out cotton and fabric masks immediately. 

“Get rid of the self-sewn masks” Riediker said. 

“Even with four layers of the thick pattern fabric, if I test it, a nice jet of fog (aerosols) comes out on the other side.”

If everyone wears medical masks or FFP2, the virus load from aerosols is reduced by a factor of 10, according to a study published in the Aerosol and Air Quality Research journal in 2021

Riediker also said that eating and drinking should be banned on public transport to ensure aerosols don’t escape. 

FFP2 masks have been shown to be more effective against the virus. 

The entire staff of the retirement home chain Tertianum have been wearing FFP2 since November. 

CEO Luca Stäger told Bluewin that coronavirus infections have halved in the homes since then, saying it is a sign of their effectiveness. 

Health economist Willy Oggier has called upon the government to tighten the rules so that FFP2 masks are required. 

Oggier said it was becoming clear that FFP2 masks are more effective against the virus – and the laws should be changed accordingly. 

“Basically, in a pandemic you only know in retrospect what works and what doesn’t” he said. 

Masks need to be worn correctly 

Hugo Sax, an infectiologist at the University Hospital Zurich disagrees however. 

He says that the current masks are sufficient – they are just not being worn right or enough. 

“From what I see on public transport, it is the case that around 80 percent do not wear the masks correctly,” he explains.

Oggier agrees. 

“Wearing a mask correctly is the order of the day, regardless of the mask type,” Oggier told SRF.

 

Member comments

  1. What’s the point of strict rules when they are not enforced?
    Let’s do something about people wearing masks with their noses out, or those who use smoking or food as an excuse to not wear a mask. Cyclists should be masked too.

  2. Noses sticking out are a problem I see every time I leave home. I took the train a week and half ago, a very very rare event, and an old white man had his nose out when he boarded the train. I and my young travel companion (in her twenties, an adult)were shocked. She told him his nose was out. He would not look at or acknowledge her. She reiterated, same response. Finally the woman sitting across from him moved seats to get away. When I conductor came through to ck tickets he quickly pulled his mask over his nose, sort of, but still awfully low down, barely covering the nostrils. I complained to the conductor who just sort of threw up his hands and said he saw this “all the time”. And walked away, saying the man had his mask up. Did not say a word to him. Meanwhile my traveling partner had gone off to find a conductor, must have crossed his path. Came back and sat down. We were really shocked. This man was at least in his 60’s, look very average, not deranged, not like a homeless person, just like an average older Swiss fellow. It was weird. Next I was at the COOP on r. de l’Ale, Lausanne several days later in the grocery store. An employee, young fellow, was stocking cheese with his nose out of his mask. I went up to him and said, “Monsieur” and pointed to my nose. He put up his mask. As I was walking towards the Lausanne Train Station later that day I passed a Middle Eastern little restaurant place that sells falafels and such, the guy behind the counter was on his cell phone talking, face mask off entirely, sort of shouting (so spraying) all over the open sections of food like lettuce, tomato, and so on in front and with a big spike of open doner kebab type meet roasting. I stared at him, he stared back, rather a bit defiant, really. I have very little hope of beating this stupid pandemic when I see this complete incomprehension among people in public place of how germs work, how this virus is transmitted. Worried.

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HEALTH

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
 

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