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Shoppers in Basel must wear face masks to reduce Covid-19 risks

The compulsory mask rule, which will come into force in Basel from August 24, currently exists for shops in canton Vaud, Jura, Geneva and Neuchâtel in French-speaking regions in the west of Switzerland. Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

Basel City has become the first German-speaking canton to require customers to wear face masks in shops to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The compulsory mask rule, which will come into force in Basel from August 24, currently exists for shops in cantons Vaud, Jura, Geneva and Neuchâtel in French-speaking regions in the west of the country.

Face masks are also mandatory on Swiss public transport, airplanes and at Basel and Geneva airports.  On public transport, the mask requirement applies to everyone aged 12 or older travelling on trains, trams and buses, mountain railways, cable cars and ships. Federal Railway conductors can ask anyone not wearing a mask to leave the train and anyone refusing will be fined.

The federal government is leaving it up to cantons to decide how far they should go with mask mandates, although it has encouraged cantons to require them in closed public places. However, the face-mask issue has dogged Switzerland’s authorities throughout the pandemic, with every change in policy met by fierce public and political debate.

The recent mandatory mask rulings follow an increase in infections in different parts of the country since mid-June. On August 16, the 7-day average reached 208.3 new cases per day, which is a 43% increase from the previous week.

Basel City recorded five new infections on Thursday taking the total number of infections in the canton to 1,165. Of these, there have been 149 new cases since June 1. A total of 76 people were in isolation on Thursday and 493 were in quarantine. Fifty-three people have died from the virus in the canton.

Basel City health director Lukas Engelberger said the upwards trend was “worrying”.

“A determined fight against the pandemic is necessary to combat a massive second wave,” he said in a statement on August 20.

Masks in schools

While there will generally be no mask wearing in primary schools this term, several cantons are requiring masks be worn among post-compulsory pupils, aged 15-16, when social distancing of at least 1.5 metres cannot be maintained.

This will be the case across the French-speaking part of Switzerland, which has announced a coordinated approach to mask-wearing among older pupils. The German-speaking cantons have no such coordination in place, although some cantons, like Lucerne and Bern, have insisted on masks. This piecemeal approach has already been criticised by teaching unions.

On Thursday, the federal technology institute ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich also introduced a mask requirement starting on August 24 and September 1, respectively.

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