ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland on Wednesday ordered dance clubs closed and added new mask requirements while leaving the nation largely open for business as it tries to contain surging COVID-19 cases without resorting to a stricter, economy-crippling lockdown.
The government in Bern ordered in-person college classes halted from Monday, placed new limits on sporting and leisure activities, and ordered masks worn in packed offices, secondary schools and even outdoors if people cannot keep their distance.
Switzerland, which in June appeared to have COVID-19 contained as daily cases dwindled to just a handful, saw new infections soar to 8,616 on Wednesday – roughly 0.1% of the population in a single day.
Even so, the government stopped short of shutting retail business, restaurants and other key segments of the economy in hopes that more-limited measures will be enough.
“We have to work with a scalpel and make very precise cuts,” Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters in Bern. “If it’s not possible to get the virus under control, then other measures are possible. But we’re trying to take a middle path.”
In some regions, hospitals and intensive care units are filling up, with doctors warning the health care system could be stretched to breaking point within 10 days.
To help avoid such a scenario, public gatherings will be limited to 50 people or less, and sporting and cultural activities with more than 15 people will be banned.
Bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., while private family gatherings will be capped at 10 people.
The country plans to deploy up to 80,000 COVID-19 tests daily – 50,000 rapid antigen tests and 30,000 of the more accurate molecular tests – to expand screening capacity stretched by rising cases.
As domestic infection rates now exceed much of Europe, the Swiss also eased quarantine requirements for incoming travellers, with only areas abroad with rates 60% higher than Switzerland affected.
Officials were seeking to minimize impacts with the package, which includes numerous exceptions including for children under 16.
“We don’t have any time to lose,” President Simonetta Sommaruga said. “The damage to the economy would be greater if we were to do nothing now.”
The new measures are indefinite.
The country will refrain for now from expanding measures to support business after concluding existing programmes are sufficient to soften the pandemic’s blow, the government said.
(Reporting by John Miller, John Revill and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, editing by Michael Shields and Nick Macfie)
By Cecile Mantovani
GENEVA (Reuters) – Swiss hospitals are scrambling to cope with a surge in new COVID-19 patients, bringing back retired staff to replace sick frontline workers and closing other wards as officials warn they could reach breaking point in about 10 days.
Case numbers in Switzerland have risen to record levels this month, with infection rates far exceeding those in neighbours Germany and Italy.
The government is expected to announce new measures on Wednesday but has been criticised by medics and scientists for being too reluctant to impose strict nationwide rules.
At Geneva’s University Hospital (HUG), in one of the worst-hit cantons, cases have increased more than six-fold in three weeks to 350 patients.
“Everyone expected a second wave, but no one to my knowledge expected it to be so wild and so severe,” director Bertrand Levrat told Reuters.
“Today, this wave is going to be probably bigger, maybe much bigger than the first wave,” he said, describing a strained situation with exhausted medics and more than 400 COVID infections among staff.
To cope, his facility is cutting elective surgeries, moving patients to private clinics and has called on retired workers even though they would be in the age bracket more vulnerable to the virus.
Nationally, about a third of intensive care units remain available but will be filled in the next ten days if the current infection rate persists, government delegate for the Coordinated Medical Services Andreas Stettbacher said on Tuesday.
Similar warnings were issued earlier this year during the first outbreak, but then hospitals, propped up by army reservists, largely coped and many had spare capacity.
The situation is different this time around, doctors say.
Marie Assouline Reinmann, a doctor at HUG, is concerned that complacency and scepticism about restrictions could lead to a spike in the number of infections.
“I fear that people take the situation less seriously and that it gets worse and worse here at the hospital,” she said.
“I would like people to realize that this second wave is here and it is already overwhelming us.”
Confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein have surpassed 127,000, with a death toll above 1,900.
(Additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
Holidays are usually for gatherings but many get-togethers are complicated or canceled because of COVID-19.
The U.S. recorded more than 69,000 new cases Friday for the first time since July, andupdated virus projections are bringing the long-feared “winter surge” of COVID-19 cases into focus as health experts warn an increasing number of infections in the U.S. will soon mean more deaths.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s latest model updates released this week contain spots of good news: 74,000 American lives can still be saved if mask use becomes nearly universal, and increased testing may explain why more young people are testing positive.
But the influential model still projects daily U.S. deaths will surpass 2,000 in January, even with states reimposing stricter orders.
The guidance also called out North Dakota specifically for its alarming death rate, following a well-documented lax approach to health mandates in the state: “North Dakota presently has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world,” a briefing on the model says.
The state joins South Dakota as having some of the lowest mask use rates in the nation. Rural counties across Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana sit among the top in the nation for new cases per capita over the last two weeks,
Some significant developments:
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 8.1 million cases and 219,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data. There have been more than 39.6 million confirmed cases around the world and nearly 1.1 million deaths.
📰 What we’re reading: Italy, once an epicenter for COVID-19, is worlds apart from the United States in its handling of the pandemic. “Italians have always looked up to the United States but what is happening now makes us watch in disbelief,” says one Italian professor.
🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak in your state
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Cases again surge at Notre Dame after parties
The University of Notre Dame announced a return to stricter rules on gatherings after cases at the school surged in recent days. Officials say off-campus tailgates and watch parties following a recent football home game are part of the reason for the increase in cases.
In a letter posted Thursday to the university’s COVID-19 website, Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding and Vice President for Campus Safety and University Operations Mike Seamon said the number of close contacts for each positive case had “increased substantially, with as many as 10 to 15 close contacts needing to quarantine.” At one time, the number of close contacts was only five per positive test.
The increase, he said, “would indicate they’re gathering in groups.”
In August, the university temporarily pivoted to online learning to stem a rash of cases.
— Andrew S. Hughes, South Bend Tribune
Man upset with mask mandate threatened Wichita mayor, police say
A retired firefighter
By John Revill
ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland announced tighter restrictions on Sunday to tackle the second wave of the coronavirus hitting the country, including a nation-wide obligation to wear masks and a ban on large scale public gatherings.
Gatherings of more than 15 people in public places will be banned from Monday and masks must be worn in all indoor public places, the government announced following an extraordinary meeting.
An order to wear masks on public transport has been extended to cover train stations, airports, bus and tram stops, the government said, replacing a patchwork of regulations which applied across Switzerland’s different regions.
The obligation to wear a mask will also apply to shops, banks, churches, and cinemas, the government said. It recommended people work from home if they can.
“The COVID-19 infection rate has increased at a very quick rate,” Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters at a press conference in Bern. “Unlike before it is affecting all cantons and all age groups.
“With winter coming it is very important to slow the spread of the virus now. Every day counts.”
Switzerland, a country of 8.6 million people, on Friday reported the highest daily number of infections since the COVID-19 crisis began, with 3,105 new cases.
So far 74,422 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and 1,823 people have died.
Sommaruga said the government was prepared to impose more drastic restrictions if the new ones did not work.
No time limit has been set for how long the measures – designed to safeguard both the population and the economy – will remain in place, she added.
Health Minister Alain Berset confirmed the second wave of the coronavirus had now materialised.
“I can say that over the last 10 days, the second wave is here… It has come rather earlier and stronger than we thought, but we are prepared for the situation.”
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
Bertrand Levrat, CEO of Geneva University Hospitals, which counts 12,000 personnel, says Europe overall faces a “turning point” at a time when Switzerland too is fighting a second wave of coronavirus cases that grew in large part out of a summertime lull in which people let down their guard about the highly infectious pandemic.
“The virus doesn’t spread alone — we are the ones who spread it. It’s a line that we don’t repeat enough,” Levrat said from his office overlooking Geneva, a surgical mask tucked into his jacket pocket. “Today, the stakes center on how much people are going to follow health measures that allow most people, and economies, and life in general, to get through this.”
“If we don’t get a handle on this, we run the risk of getting into a situation that’s harder to control,” he said. “We are really at a turning point — things can go both ways. Health services need to look for ways to keep up contact tracing (and) to succeed in getting a grasp on the chains of transmission.”
The Swiss benefit from a relatively rich population in a less densely populated country. Switzerland, at more than 8.6 million people, has a smaller population than the metropolitan areas of Paris and London, for example. The country, along with Germany, has generally been seen as coping better than some of its European neighbors in battling the pandemic.
But that may be changing. The Alpine nation has confirmed more than 71,000 cases and over 1,800 deaths from coronavirus, and new cases are rolling at more than 1,000 per day recently — hitting a record 3,105 on Friday. Its infection rates are now among the highest in Europe. While Switzerland isn’t in the European Union, its fortunes and fate are closely tied to the bloc, and the virus knows no borders.
Population centers in Zurich, Lausanne and its Vaud region, the Italian-speaking Ticino region and Geneva have been hardest hit. Now, the less dense canton Schwyz — at the heart of the birthplace of the Swiss confederation — is reportedly facing the country’s biggest spike in cases.
The Geneva University Hospitals have hired hundreds of new staffers in recent months. On Thursday, they announced stepped-up recruitment, testing and lab services in response to the second wave.
“I think we are quite well prepared, even though it was a huge challenge to every one of us, and a huge stress on