The Swiss government has decided not to impose a general obligation for residents to wear face masks as the country starts relaxing coronavirus restrictions next week.
Interior Minister Alain Berset said the government stood by its policy that healthy people are not required to wear protective masks in public.
The decision was taken in consultation with Swiss experts and the Sweden-based European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control, he said.
“The best hygiene measures to prevent infections are still keeping distance and washing hands,” Berset told a news conference on Wednesday.
However, the government recommends that passengers using public transport in rush hours wear protective masks. Clients in shops may also need masks in line with health and safety regulations in certain shops.
A recent survey shows a majority of respondents coming out in favour of a mandatory wearing of masks.
The armed forces are planning on buying up to 100 million masks which will be sold to retailers at purchasing price. The government has a budget of up to CHF400 million ($412 million) to provide the different types of masks.
Defence Minister Viola Amherd said some 21 million have already been distributed among the 26 cantons. But it is the responsibility of hospitals, companies and private households to ensure a stock.
Amherd also announced that the production of masks in Switzerland would be boosted with Wednesday’s arrival of two machines acquired jointly by the national government and canton Zurich.
Switzerland is due to ease restrictions on April 27 with the reopening of hairdressers and beauty salons as well as DIY centres.
However, a planned relaxing of regulations on major supermarket chains over the sale of non-essential items has been put off until May 11 following a storm of protest from small businesses.
Strict bans also remain in place in southern Switzerland, a region bordering Italy which has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite calls from right-wing and centre-right political parties as well as certain regional authorities, the government stood firm on its plan on a gradual reopening of businesses and restaurants in a bid to avoid a new wave of infections.
The government on Wednesday also presented a plan to offer additional loans totaling up to CHF154 million for start-up companies which are at risk because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said start-ups could apply to be considered by a panel of experts from the national and cantonal authorities.
Maurer said the financial support for the start-up community was crucial for Switzerland’s pioneering role in this sector.
The government received about 109,000 requests for financial support from the business community, totaling some CHF17 billion over the past few weeks. Maurer said it was key for the industry to have enough liquidity to be able to be fully operational again.
Praise and warning
The finance minister praised the relief package as a success story and a model for other countries.
“I think we are the only country in the world able not only to pledge credits but also provide practical help,” Maurer said. He added that his ministry was regularly approached by other countries in Europe and from the United States asking for advice.
Maurer also warned that the shutdown of the Swiss economy came at an estimated cost of about CHF5 billion per week and that the country’s budget could result in a deficit of up to CHF40 billion this year depending on the unemployment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The longer we have to wait for the economy to come out of the lockdown, the higher the costs,” he warned.
Last year, Switzerland ran a budget surplus of CHF48.9 billion.
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