Will Switzerland relax mask rules for vaccinated people?

Will Switzerland relax mask rules for vaccinated people?
Until experts reach a common conclusion, we'll be wearing masks for a while. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss health experts don’t see eye to eye on the subject of masks for people who are immune to the coronavirus.

Switzerland first put in place its compulsory mask rules in public transport in July of 2020.

Since then, masks have been required in more and more areas across the country – a rule which remains in place today. 

In some countries, such as the United States, mask rules have been relaxed as a consequence of widespread vaccination campaigns. 

While Switzerland’s vaccination campaign trails that of the US, it is gradually picking up speed.

But could this mean masks will no longer be required? 

Confusion among government and experts

When it comes to masks for people who have been vaccinated, lack of clarity and common policy prevails among health experts and the Swiss government, reports news outlet Watson.

The confusion is fuelled by divergent opinions among experts on the importance of masks for vaccinated people.

For Virginie Masserey, head of the infection control section at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), there are no medical reasons for continuing to wear the mask after having been vaccinated with two doses.

“Basically, fully vaccinated people don’t transmit the coronavirus. So they don’t necessarily have to take measures to prevent transmission”, she said.

She was quick to point out, however, that from a practical point of view, “in a community where the mask is compulsory, we can’t differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated people”.

It’s hard to imagine police checking the entrances to stores to find out who received the two doses, she added.

However, Martin Ackermann, head of the Covid -19 Task Force, contradicted Masserey’s assessment.

“The vaccine protects against infections very well, but not 100 percent”, he said.

 “If I am vaccinated, I can still be infected and contaminate someone. Fortunately, this risk is very limited. Depending on the situation, a mask may still be indicated to further reduce this risk”, he added.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Why are Switzerland’s coronavirus numbers falling so sharply?

Asked by a journalist if masks will be part of our lives forever, Ackermann responded:  “That’s not what I meant. It all depends on the context. In some cases, it may be appropriate to wear a mask in the future. But we can assume that under normal circumstances it won’t be necessary”.

Without a unanimous decision on this matter, FOPH’s Masserey added that “in the current situation where many people are not yet immune, it is important that everyone respects the measures”.

Based on these responses, it doesn’t look likely that the requirement to wear masks in stores, on public transportation, and in other crowded places will be lifted anytime soon.

However, the FOPH set some exemptions on mask wearing for vaccinated people.

For instance, “You do not have to social distance or wear a mask at private gatherings with other fully vaccinated people”, it said.

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