Geneva anti-mask demo attracts 1,000 protesters

Anti-mask demonstrators gathered outside the UN headquarters in Geneva on September 12, 2020. Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Around 1,000 people took part in a demonstration in Geneva on Saturday to protest against the mandatory use of face masks and other Covid-19 measures.

This content was published on September 12, 2020 - 18:43

Crowds gathered at the Place des Nations outside the United Nations headquarters on Saturday afternoon demanding the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. They denounced the mandatory wearing of face masks in certain situations and measures imposed by politicians; they also took a swipe at the media for its coronavirus coverage.

The flags of Switzerland, France, the United States and Sweden were visible in the crowds. Only a small minority of those present wore hygiene masks.

Protesters booed the World Health Organization (WHO), which has its headquarters in Geneva, and criticised the global health body for its efforts to find a Covid-19 vaccine. Some accused the WHO of being controlled by outside interests.

The Geneva demo follows a smaller anti-mask rally in canton Uri, in German-speaking Switzerland last weekend.

Similar protests were held in several Swiss cities in May when there was a nationwide ban on more than five people gathering in public places.

Swiss restrictions

Since then restrictions on gatherings have eased. Private and public events of up to 1,000 people have been allowed since June 22, as long as contact tracing can be guaranteed. On August 12, the government announced that events with more than 1,000 people – notably festivals and sporting events – would be allowed against starting on October 1.

Face masks are mandatory on Swiss public transport, air flights and at Basel and Geneva airports. 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.

Nine cantons (Zurich, Vaud, Geneva, Basel City, Valais, Neuchâtel, Fribourg, Solothurn and Jura) have decided to make face masks mandatory in shops.

While there is generally no mask wearing in primary schools, 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.

Switzerland has witnessed a rise in new cases in recent weeks. On September 11, the seven-day average for Switzerland reached 373.7 new cases per day, which is a 19% increase from the previous week. On September 12, the Federal Office of Public Health recorded 465 new infections across the country - Vaud, Zurich, Geneva, Fribourg, Bern and Aargau are the worst affected cantons.

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