France drops blocks on face mask exports to Switzerland

Doing it properly: instructions for wearing a FFP2 face mask. Keystone / Christian Beutler

After Germany, France has lifted restrictions on the delivery of hygienic face masks to Switzerland. Some two million masks are needed each day, according to the Federal Office for Public Health.

This content was published on March 29, 2020 minutes

The French embassy to Switzerland made the announcementExternal link on Saturday, paving the way for two shipments of FFP2 hygienic masks to go ahead from France to Switzerland.

French authorities had initially taken precautionary measures to avoid speculation concerning sensitive products, the embassy wrote in a statement.

However, the measures were not meant to block the export of such equipment to neighbouring countries also fighting the virus. “Solidarity is a permanent combat,” it said, adding that France and Switzerland are cooperating on various fronts to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.

For example, borders between the two countries are closed to all but citizens, residents, cross-border workers, and goods; but authorities are cooperating to ensure flows of cross-border healthcare workers each day. Swiss hospitals have also accepted coronavirus patients from the Alsace region, to ease the crowding in some French hospitals.

The latest such move on this score was also announced by the French Ambassador on Sunday, who said 20 patients would be transferred from France to hospitals in eight Swiss cantons, in both the north- and south-west of the country.

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Masks in their millions

The French announcement about the mask exports on Sunday comes after the director of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said on Saturday that all blockages – including those from Germany – had been resolved.

The European Union took the decision last weekend to authorize the export of medical equipment from its member states to the European Free Trade Area, of which Switzerland is a member. Bern has also decided to implement the decision in the other direction, and a licence is now needed to export masks, gloves, goggles and swabs as of March 26, the government said. 

On Friday, Daniel Koch of the FOPH told Swiss public television SRF that the hygienic masks were especially important for those working in the healthcare sector, and that the country’s stocks would be reserved for this sector above all.

The authorities currently have stocks of some 17 million masks, while two million are needed each day, Koch said.

The French, meanwhile, are 40 million masks per week, and have ordered some 1 billion, mostly from China, to boost their supplies.

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