In an interview on SRF, Switzerland’s broadcaster, Alain Berset, Switzerland’s minister of health, said that he didn’t question the science on masks enough at the beginning of the pandemic.
On 29 January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised that wearing medical masks when not indicated may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. It also advised that in community settings medical masks are not required, as no evidence is available on their usefulness to protect non-sick persons.
“At the beginning I questioned science too little,” said Berset. The Federal Council simply listened to the position of science and implemented it, claiming that masks could be harmful. Many scientific experts at the time claimed that it could not be assumed that the population would use masks correctly and that incorrect handling could even be harmful. “In retrospect, I have to say that I should have questioned that more,” said Berset.
However, the minister denied that the federal government initially advised against wearing masks because of a mask shortage in Switzerland. If the government had been convinced at the time that masks were helpful, we would have faced that reality, he said.
In East Asia, where governments and populations have experience with viruses such as the Hong Kong Flu and SARS, masks have long been routinely worn by the public during viral outbreaks. In Taiwan, a nation of nearly 25 million, which has suffered only around 3,000 cases and 15 Covid-19 deaths, a plan to gather and distribute masks was launched in January 2020.
SRF interview (in German)