Switzerland imposes mask-wearing in indoor public spaces

Sommaruga and interior minister responsible for health Alain Berset on Sunday announced a new set of measures applicable to all of Switzerland designed to contain a surge in coronavirus cases. Keystone / Marcel Bieri

Spontaneous public gatherings will be limited to 15 people and telework is once again recommended, in a set of new Covid-19 restrictions that come into force across Switzerland on Monday.

This content was published on October 18, 2020 - 15:10

The government made the announcement following an extraordinary meeting on Sunday at which the cabinet ministers agreed to make masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, including train stations, airports, shops, museums, restaurants, churches and even changing rooms in sports centres.

“These measures correspond to the wishes of the cantons,” President Simonetta Sommaruga said at a news conference, characterising the current situation as serious, with "exponential" increases in new Covid cases. She explained that cantonal authorities and the Federal Public Health Office had been involved in consultations in recent days on the measures to be taken.

"The second wave has been here for ten days, and it's come earlier and stronger than expected," interior minister responsible for health, Alain Berset, told reporters.

The government was not declaring the crisis an extraordinary situation under the epidemics act, as it did at the height of the first wave last spring.

Instead, Sommaruga said, “the cantons and the federal government have to continue to work together to avoid confusion." The cantons have managed the pandemic since summer as part of the Swiss political system with a patchwork of measures following the easing of nationwide restrictions, and can still impose stricter measures as necessary.

Smaller private gatherings

The government recommended avoiding “as far as possible” private gatherings with friends and family or limiting them to 15 people. For private events of more than 15 people, guests will have to wear masks when standing and eat or drink only when seated. Contact information of all guests also must be collected.

Gatherings of more than 15 people in public areas, such as parks, are prohibited from Monday. This excludes events organised in public spaces, including political gatherings, provided protection measures are in place.

Eating and drinking only while seated will also apply to restaurants and bars, both indoors and outdoors.

Telework is once again recommended, the government said. The 26 cantons will continue efforts at contact tracing. 

In schools and nurseries,  which fall under cantonal responsibility, masks are compulsory only when they are part of the protection measures for these facilities. Masks have been compulsory on public transport since July 6.

“I am convinced the public will understand the need for these measures,” Sommaruga said, while also adding she did not exclude the possibility for the authorities to impose stricter measures if the situation called for it.

On Sunday, demonstrators numbering in the hundreds protested against Covid restrictions in front of the parliament in Bern. Some were taken away by police in scenes the news agency Keystone-SDA described as “tumultuous”.

Switzerland registered a daily record of 3,105 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday, after reaching the bar of 1,000 cases per day in early October.

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