Government mask policy dictated by stocks, say papers

The government initially advised the general public against wearing masks because it did not have enough, say two newspapers. Keystone / Wu Hong

Lack of protective masks at the height of the coronavirus crisis dictated the government’s recommendations on wearing masks, say Le Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung newspapers.

This content was published on August 2, 2020 - 13:03

As they point out, the Swiss government’s recommendations on mask wearing have hardly been consistent.  First it discouraged the general public from wearing them. Now, however, it has made them compulsory on public transport and is encouraging cantons to impose them in shops and closed public spaces. How can this be explained?

“Minutes that we have obtained from government crisis bodies show it was the crying lack of masks that dictated the authorities’ communication strategy just as cases were exploding,” writes Le Matin Dimanche.

In March, the authorities said masks were “very ineffective”, but the country only had two and a half weeks of stocks at that time, according to the papers. A Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) appeal to the government resulted in one million masks being found and distributed to the cantons. But this was still too few, because it was estimated the whole country would need up to two million a day.

The government line only changed at the end of April when 90 million masks ordered by the army pharmacy arrived in Switzerland, says the report. A week later, the FOPH advised the population to wear masks if social distancing was not possible.

But there was a problem at first because many people were not following this advice. Vice Chancellor André Simonazzi told a government crisis meeting on June 11 that this was “probably also because we told them for a long time it wasn’t very useful”, writes Le Matin Dimanche.

However, former FOPH head of communicable diseases Daniel Koch says it is not because there was a lack of masks that the authorities advised against them. He told the papers it was first necessary that people learn the importance of handwashing and social distancing. “If we had recommended wearing masks at the beginning, people would have been content with that and that would not have resolved the problem,” he is quoted as saying.  

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