Switzerland’s army will distribute 1 million masks to leading retailers every day for two weeks starting Monday, the government said, even as it insisted people don’t need to wear them.
Daniel Koch, director of the division of infectious diseases, said making masks mandatory could give people a false sense of security and they might not follow rules on keeping their distance and washing hands.
Still, some professions and communities may need them as the country starts to relax its coronavirus restrictions next week, the government said. Interior Minister Alain Berset said the decision was based on recommendations by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The EU agency says using masks may reduce the spread of infection but should be considered a complementary measure—not a replacement for established preventive practices like physical distancing.
The public health office reported 28,268 positive tests for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, up 200 from Tuesday’s count. The death toll rose to 1,217. Switzerland’s infection rate peaked at the end of March, when new positive tests ranged from 1,300 to 1,500 a day.
No herd immunity
The government plans to resume tracking cases of the infection as part of its post-lockdown strategy. Some cantons are already conducting blood tests to determine the prevalence of the virus. Berset said the first results show a level well below 10 percent.
“We can’t count on collective immunity,” he said, referring to what happens when enough people are immune to a disease for the chains of transmission to be broken.
The World Health Organization has warned there is no evidence to suggest that the presence of antibodies in blood can determine whether someone has immunity to the coronavirus.
COVID-19 aid for start-ups
Also Wednesday, the government announced a CHF 154 emergency loan program for start-ups. The confederation will guarantee 65 percent of a bank loan, with the cantons backing the remaining 35 percent.
The program is similar to the government’s aid package for small businesses, under which 109,000 firms have received state-backed loans amounting to CHF 17 billion as of Wednesday, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said.
He said he expects the federal deficit to run between CHF 30 and 40 billion this year depending on the unemployment rate. The government has added hundreds of thousands of workers to its payroll under its short-time program of wage subsidies since mid-March.