Switzerland’s militia army is getting ready to increase its support in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 1,500 people nationwide.
For the first time, the Swiss army will deploy one of its four hospital battalions – 600 soldiers - on March 16 to support other civilian hospitals; it can welcome 200 patients.
Army chief Thomas Süessli said the deployment was a “special service towards the service and protection of us all”.
Since March 9, the army has already sent 23 people to support two hospitals at Bellinzona and Lugano in canton Ticino, in southern Switzerland bordering Italy. They are helping look after patients and provide materials, which includes respiratory devices. But the army believes other cantons will soon request additional support.
It is unclear how many army personnel will be deployed but several hundred are expected, according to an army spokesperson.
The virus is spreading throughout Switzerland. More than 1,500 cases were reported as of March 15 by federal authorities, as well as 14 deaths. Most victims were elderly people with pre-existing health conditions.
The pressure on the health system is also growing. In Switzerland there are 82 intensive care units with 950 to 1,000 beds, around 850 of which are equipped with respirators. The army has around 200 additional respirators.