Swiss urge caution as COVID cases again top 9,000

ZURICH/GENEVA (Reuters) – Coronavirus infections rose by 9,207 and hospitalisations by 279, data here from Swiss health authorities showed on Friday, as the country’s health care and contract tracing systems struggled to manage a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

FILE PHOTO: A poster reading “How we protect ourselves. Stop Corona. Meet less people as possible” is pictured in front of the Bundeshaus, the Swiss Parliament building, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Bern, Switzerland October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Switzerland has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, prompting Berne to introduce new nation-wide measures aimed at slowing transmission. But critics say measures do not go far enough, and have called for a lockdown, with infectious disease expert Jacques Fellay on Thursday urging Swiss citizens to cut their contacts in half.

Officials on Friday said the number of new cases was likely an underestimate given the high positivity rate and signs that the testing system is stretched.

The head of Switzerland’s scientific task force for COVID-19, Martin Ackermann, warned that hospital capacity would be exceeded before the effects of the new measures could be fully felt, given the incubation period of the virus.

“We should expect the capacity of our hospitals to be exceeded,” he told journalists, calling the risk “very considerable”.

Under Switzerland’s federal system, some cantons have introduced measures more strict than national ones, such as limiting private gatherings to five.

The western canton of Jura also called in army support to relieve hospitals, after sending its first patient to a neighbouring canton for lack of intensive care facilities.

However, Ackermann warned that even mobilising the army on a national level–as occurred in the first wave–would have limited effect.

“You have seen the curve and if it continues, any increase in capacity will be exhausted within a few hours,” he said.

Officials urged discipline, asking families to refrain from trick-or-treating over Halloween.

“The numbers need to come down. It’s our only chance,” said Linda Nartey, cantonal doctor in Berne.

The total confirmed cases in Switzerland and tiny neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 154,251, as the death toll rose by 52 to 2,037.

Reporting by Emma Farge, Thomas Seythal and Michael Shields; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

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