By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Silke Koltrowitz
ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland headed for a second lockdown on Friday as the government ordered restaurants and sports and recreation centres closed for a month from Tuesday and urged people to stay home.
Backing away from its "middle path" approach that had aimed to avoid business-crippling consequences, the government conceded immediate, strong action was vital to curb stubbornly high coronavirus infection rates that had prompted calls from scientists and medical professionals for tighter measures.
"Our (infection rate over the last two weeks) is three times higher than Spain's, and nearly three times as high as France's and Belgium's, where it is known that the situation has been very difficult," Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference. "We're far too high."
Confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein have surpassed 400,000 and the death toll has topped 6,000.
The cabinet urged the public to keep social contacts to a minimum and avoid non-essential travel, warning it could impose further measures should the situation worsen.
"We didn't go all the way to the limit, we didn't do everything (we could have)," President Simonetta Sommaruga said. "But I believe what we have done today should help us move towards reducing case numbers over the coming days and weeks."
The government shied away from nationwide shutdowns of ski resorts, permitting outdoor sports in groups of five or fewer people and saying individual cantons would remain responsible for their resorts.
Lucerne and Schwyz, home to smaller ski resorts, announced ski closures, while Bern said it would keep ski sites open for now.
Shops can stay open, albeit with further restrictions on the number of people allowed in.
(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Michael Shields and Giles Elgood)