Swiss region rewards COVID-testing schools by lifting mask rule

FILE PHOTO: A child picks a crayon during the first day back to school as Switzerland smoothens the lockdown measures during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland is joining nations offering privileges to those conforming with COVID-19 measures, as one region allows fifth- and sixth-grade students to shed masks if their schools have participated in mass testing.

This small move from April 12 by the mountain canton of Grisons on the Italian border is emblematic of a broader global debate over whether people who test negative or are vaccinated should enjoy more freedoms.

To fly, people must already produce a negative test, while airlines want vaccinated people to travel without restrictions.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson kicked off debate by suggesting bars might restrict customers to those who can produce so-called "Pub Passports" as proof of vaccination.

Grisons introduced its mask regulation for fifth and sixth graders at schools in February, not long after employees of luxury hotels in St. Moritz tested positive for virus variants.

The canton has since been pushing mass testing, including in schools, and said students in the 95 percent of participating institutions that have participated should now be allowed to shed masks.

"The decision is based on the positive influence of the cantonal test strategy," Grisons said in a statement.

"With the weekly testing in schools, we've had access to an instrument that can quickly identify COVID-19 cases and interrupt the chain of infection."

Other regions in Switzerland including in Zurich, where schools are generally not mass testing, are still requiring masks for fourth grade and up.

Grisons will continue to require masks for teachers as well as students from the seventh grade upwards.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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