Swiss coronavirus cases surge, canton orders seniors to stay home

By John Miller

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland on Saturday reported 6,100 coronavirus infections, 25% more than a day earlier, and 56 deaths, the Swiss health ministry said, as the canton of Ticino that borders hard-hit Italy banned seniors over 65 from leaving their homes to shop.

"The situation in Ticino is very tense," said Daniel Koch, head of the Federal Office of Health's communicable diseases division. The latest count nationwide is up more than 1,200 cases in a day, while the deaths increased 13 from Friday.

The local government in Ticino, with so far 918 reported coronavirus cases and 28 deaths, ordered people aged 65 and over to stay home and only leave if they needed to visit the doctor or for work, Swiss radio SRF reported.

The government said that family members or specially organised municipal services should deliver food to older citizens while they are restricted to their homes, newspaper Corriere del Ticino said.

Seniors and those with health problems have been vulnerable to the virus that causes COVID-19. Italy, just across the border from Ticino, is the epicentre of Europe's coronavirus crisis, as deaths in that country surged by 793 in a day, lifting the total death toll to 4,825 of 53,578 infected.

Speaking at a press conference in Bern, Koch said he had been in touch with Ticino's top doctor, who had told him the arrival of patients was taxing hospital resources but that there were still sufficient beds to accommodate the critically ill, for now.

The Swiss military took delivery of 50 additional ventilators and deployed them in Ticino on Friday, amid a global race by countries to add more potentially life-saving breathing devices needed by critically ill patients to give them a fighting chance of survival.

Koch said the 25% rise in Swiss cases in 24 hours did not come as a surprise, given Switzerland only this week heightened restrictions on events and gatherings, including limits on groups in public to five people, with each keeping a 2-meter (6.6-ft) distance, under threat of a 100 Swiss franc ($101.37) fine.

The end of the crisis cannot yet be forecast, Koch said, but he expects at least the rate of increase in new cases to begin flattening out in a week or so, as the new limits on freedom of movement temper spread of the disease that has sickened nearly 280,000 globally and killed more than 11,000 people so far.


(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)