Swiss mull tighter restrictions as COVID-19 cases soar

·2-min read
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Lausanne
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Lausanne

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland is considering tighter restrictions including mini-lockdowns to check a rapidly rising number of coronavirus cases, Health Minister Alain Berset said on Wednesday.

The government will decide on further measures next week after examining the impact of its ban this week on spontaneous gatherings of more than 15 people and a nationwide obligation to wear masks.

"If the measures that were taken on Sunday don't lead to a fall in the numbers next week we will adopt additional measures for public buildings, public gatherings and organised events," Berset told a news conference in Bern.

"It is absolutely possible -- in my view even probable -- that the government will adopt further measures on Wednesday," he said.

Berset said the next two to three weeks would be decisive for Switzerland's response to the crisis, with some cantons like Valais in the south particularly badly hit.

In the space of three weeks, Switzerland had gone from one of the best-placed countries in Europe to one of the worst, Berset said. It has now recorded nearly 400 new cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks.

That narrowly trailed France, but was well ahead of Britain, Austria, Italy and Germany, health officials said on Tuesday.

Its public health agency on Wednesday reported https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home/krankheiten/ausbrueche-epidemien-pandemien/aktuelle-ausbrueche-epidemien/novel-cov/situation-schweiz-und-international.html a record 5,596 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total in Switzerland and tiny neighbouring principality Liechtenstein to 91,763. The death toll rose by 11 to 1,856.

Berset declined to rule out a two-week lockdown, although the government wanted to avoid a general shut-down of society.

"If we don't get the situation under control, then basically all options are open," Berset said.

Switzerland has had to reverse course after ending nearly all emergency measures in June. That is when it handed responsibility to cantons, where rules on public gatherings and mask requirements vary widely.

(Reporting by John Revill and Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Michael Shields)