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COVID-19 RULES

Reader question: Where do I still need to wear a mask in Switzerland?

Despite a much publicised end to mask rules on April 1st, masks are still required in some places. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: Where do I still need to wear a mask in Switzerland?
Depending on where you are flying to, masks may no longer be required on these two airlines. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Since shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic, wearing masks in public spaces has become standard across Switzerland and much of the globe. 

Masks had been compulsory in indoor public spaces in Switzerland since October 29th, 2020 until February 17th of this year, when the mask requirement was lifted except for public transport and health establishments.

And from April 1st, masks don’t have to be worn in any publicly-accessible places.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Switzerland to scrap Covid certificate and most mask rules

This doesn’t mean, however, that faces no longer have to be covered anywhere in Switzerland, under any circumstances. In fact, masks remain compulsory in certain places, such as hospitals and transport. 

In dropping the mask-wearing obligation from April 1st, the Federal Council specified that each canton is “free to impose stricter protective measures or to exempt certain institutions from the mask requirement. Individual establishments may still stipulate that visitors must wear a mask, for example in medical practices or hairdressing salons.”

And this is exactly what happened.

Cantons of Zurich, Basel-Country, Basel-City, Bern, Fribourg, Jura, Valais and Geneva still maintain the mask obligation in health institutions, such as hospitals and elderly care homes, for staff and visitors alike.

And you will likely find that most doctors’ practices and other medical venues where sick people tend to congregate will still have signs asking people to put on their masks.

READ MORE: Easter holidays: What to expect if you’re coming to Switzerland

What about travel?

Planes are under the ”public transportation” category as well, but they have different mask-wearing rules than local ground transportation like trains and buses.

That’s because airplanes travel internationally and have to comply with rules at their destinations.

For instance, though SWISS has been gradually lifting its mask-wearing requirement for passengers and crew members aboard its domestic flights, “facemasks will still need to be worn on flights for which this is required by the country of destination”, the airline said, adding that passengers will be advised of applicable regulations before their flight.

In what is now becoming an industry standard, the same mask policy is in place at other airlines flying to and from Switzerland, including SWISS’ sister company Edelweiss Air, and EasyJet.

The same also applies to international train travel, as well crossing the border(s) to neighbouring countries to shop; it’s best to check ahead of time what rules are in place, as they are bound to change quickly.

For example, a mask must still be worn on public transport in the neighbouring regions of Alsace, France and Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

In Italy, high grade FFP2masks continue to be required on all types of domestic public transport (both local and long-distance); enclosed cable cars and chair lifts, including at ski resorts; and at shows, screenings, events and competitions open to the public (whether indoors or outdoors).

In all other indoor public spaces, lower grade surgical (but not cloth) masks can be used from April 1st. 

Masks should also be worn in nightclubs and discos, but can be removed when someone is dancing.

And even though you may not be impacted by this particular regulation yourself, Swiss soldiers are still to wear an FFP2 mask in all indoor spaces.

READ MORE: Reader question: Do I still need to be vaccinated to visit Switzerland?

What are The Local Switzerland’s reader questions?

As part of our service to our readers and members, we often answer questions on life in Switzerland via email when people get in touch with us. 

When these have value to the greater Local Switzerland community, we put them together as an article, with ‘reader question’ in the headline. 

All readers of The Local Switzerland can ask a reader question, i.e. you do not need to be a member. If you do find our reporting valuable however, then please consider signing up

You do not need to live in Switzerland to ask a reader question, i.e. you could be coming to Switzerland for a holiday and have a specific question. However, the questions have to be related to Switzerland in some way. 

We will only turn a question into a reader question article where it has value to the broader Local community and where we can answer it.

READ MORE: What are The Local Switzerland’s reader questions?

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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