Switzerland hopes to begin repatriating its citizens from China at the weekend but cannot yet give guarantees for the ten people who have asked to return home, the Swiss authorities said in a press conference on Friday.
France has offered to fly the ten people to Marseilles where they will be quarantined for 14 days when they arrive. Officials said that all Swiss citizens in China are healthy and reiterated that there are no cases of Coronavirus in Switzerland so far.
The Swiss foreign ministry said there are more than 4,000 Swiss nationals in China and Hong Kong at present. But only ten are located in the vicinity of Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic that has so far claimed 213 lives.
Also on Friday, the Touring Club Switzerland said that it was in contact with the foreign ministry and had already organised 16 return flights from China for its members, including from regions that are less affected. It has also created a special team to deal with the situation and the increased number of calls from members.
Some media reports have criticised the Swiss authorities for what they see as a slow response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has now been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But Swiss health officials sought to calm fears by saying that the country is prepared if the virus should appear in Switzerland. The federal authorities are closely coordinating with cantonal counterparts, whilst Switzerland has been included in a European Union-wide warning system.
Researchers at the University of Bern have warned that there is a risk of the Coronavirus epidemic spreading outside of China. Using computer simulations, they have concluded that each infected person spreads the virus to two other people on average.
This is a similar ratio to the 2003 SARS virus, researchers say. There are already more cases of Coronavirus than the SARS epidemic.
“At the moment it is essential to prevent new transmission chains from forming in countries outside of China,” said epidemiologist Christian Althaus. “The stringent measures taken in China to prevent further spread have most likely depressed the number of reproductions. The following weeks will show whether these measures are sufficient to prevent a global pandemic.”
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