Swiss on way to halving COVID-19 infections every two weeks

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland is on its way towards halving the number of new COVID-19 infections every two weeks thanks to strict measures in the country's west that was particularly hard hit by the second wave of the virus, officials said on Tuesday.

Martin Ackermann, head of the COVID-19 science task force, told a media briefing a national reproduction rate at 0.7 to 0.8 meant the number of new infections was being cut in half every fortnight. A value below 1 means that statistically one infected person passes the virus on to fewer than one other person.

"We see differences between the regions at the moment (...) We currently have the lowest reproduction rate in the French-speaking cantons that took additional measures. They are contributing to (us) reaching the milestone of halving (the number of new cases) every two weeks," Ackermann said.

Switzerland had seen a rapid surge in infections since October, with 1,040 deaths in the last two weeks alone.

But the wealthy Alpine republic has taken relatively mild measures against the virus compared to its European neighbours, leaving shops, restaurants and theatres open.

However, cantons in western Switzerland have imposed tougher restrictions. The international hub of Geneva for example has closed bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and all stores except for essential ones like supermarkets.

The western cantons are closer to France, which is in nationwide lockdown to combat a high rate of COVID-19.

Switzerland and the tiny adjoining principality of Liechtenstein reported 4,241 new infections on Tuesday among a population of 8.6 million. Total infections have surpassed 300,000, with 3,930 deaths.

(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Mark Heinrich)