Swiss support wanes for masks and Covid tracing app

Face masks are recommended but not required in Switzerland. Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

The Swiss remain sceptical about the use of protective face masks and a tracing device to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey has found.

Support for the mandatory wearing of a hygiene mask in public appears to be losing ground in Switzerland. The rate of rejection for masks in shops increased by ten percentage points between April and June.

Only in the Italian-speaking region of the country, hard hit by the pandemic, do most respondents support such a measure, according to the latest opinion poll carried out by the Sotomo research institute.

The fourth such survey was published on Friday by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

Similarly, the Italian-speaking region – bordering northern Italy, a hotbed of Covid-19 in Europe – is strongly in favour of masks on public transport. The French-speaking part of Switzerland also supports this but to a lesser extent.

The German-speaking region is narrowly against, as the graphic below shows.

Public opinion against masks is in line with the low number of new Covid infections in Switzerland and a result of government policy, which only recommends protective face covering if social distancing rules can’t be respected, according to Michael Hermann, director of Sotomo.

“The trend against masks is likely to continue if there’s no new wave of infections,” he said.

Another factor is a lack of public pressure and the absence of a “mask-wearing culture”, notably in German-speaking Switzerland.

Pollsters identified a similar phenomenon about the willingness of respondents to use a technical device to trace new infections in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

The rate of approval dropped to 54% overall in June, down 11 percentage points from April.

This doesn’t bode well for the SwissCovid mobile phone application, which needs about 60% of the Swiss population to install it to be effective.

The reason for the public reluctance is similar to that for masks. “People don’t see a need to install such a device if the virus appears to be under control,” says Hermann.

Added to this comes a dogged scepticism about a perceived restriction of personal freedom and fears about surveillance by the authorities.

Hermann doubts whether a public campaign to encourage the use of the app would have much of an impact at this stage.

“If the number of infections remains low, people are unlikely to see the point of such a device,” he says.

Economic fears

The latest online poll also found that fears of an economic downturn, including increasing unemployment, has remained top of the list of worries about the negative impact of the pandemic over the past three months.

The concerns about a loss of personal freedom and international or social conflicts first became apparent in April, while fears of a collapse of the Swiss health system no longer feature prominently.

Hermann notes a striking contradiction in the public mood at the moment. People seem to be more optimistic that a looming economic crisis in Switzerland can be averted. But at the same time they express personal concern about losing their jobs.

“The current euphoria is likely due to the end of the lockdown, but the positive mood can’t last much longer,” he says. “It will dawn on many of those who currently receive benefits to make up for the short-time work that the scheme could soon round out.”

The government has gradually eased restrictions imposed in mid-March and public life has resumed in many parts of Switzerland with shops and restaurants as well as schools re-opening.

A ban is still in place – at least in principle – on public rallies with more than 300 participants and borders to neighbouring countries are still closed, but controls are being scrapped on Monday.

Rock solid confidence

The Swiss continue to have full confidence in their government despite growing criticism of certain policies to lead the country through the pandemic.

The rate of approval has risen from 61% to 66% since March. Only self-declared conservatives and right-wing supporters in the German- and Italian-speaking regions said they were losing confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis.

In contrast, the authorities have gradually won ground in the French-speaking part of the country.

These findings seem to confirm the different perceptions among the different language groups when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic in Switzerland.

Polling details

The online survey is based on answers of 31,011 respondents over the age of 15 across the country.

It was carried out between June 5-8.

The margin of error is +/-1.1.%.

The poll is the fourth in a series of surveys by the Sotomo research institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

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