Swiss step up precautions to prevent spread of coronavirus

At this stage no such lockdowns are planned in Switzerland as have been seen in Italy over the past days. Keystone / Matteo Corner

Authorities have decided to beef up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus from neighbouring Italy, while stressing that the situation in Switzerland is under control. 

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Tests for the Covid-19 virus will also be made available to people who have flu-like symptoms but have not necessarily been in close contact with infected patients, according to the interior ministry. An information campaign as well as advisory services will be boosted in the next few days. 

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Interior Minister Alain Berset said the Swiss government was in regular contact with the health authorities in neighbouring countries and was ready to take further measures if necessary. 

“We are well prepared if the situation worsens. Cooperation with the cantonal authorities [primarily in charge of health matters] has worked well and we are also part of a European health alarm and response system,” Berset said.

Switzerland shares borders with four countries but is not a member of the European Union. The southern Ticino region has close economic links with northern Italy, notably through the estimated 68,000 Italian cross-border commuters.

So far, about 300 suspected cases of Covid-19 have been tested in Switzerland, but there has been no confirmed cases, according to the interior ministry.

Berset said a national panel would evaluate the situation regularly and discuss further steps if necessary. 

Information

Among the latest precautions, the authorities plan to step up an awareness campaign using posters at airports and railway stations, as well as  instructions for border guards and public transport personnel.

The resources at test laboratories will also be increased, said Pascal Strupler, head of the Federal Office for Public Health. He assured that the  measures taken so far are sufficient to deal with the current situation in Switzerland.

However, he added that further steps, including the cancellation of public events, could be considered if deemed necessary by local organisers or by cantonal authorities.

An infected patient and others who have been in close contact with him or her will be isolated in quarantine, said Daniel Koch, expert on communicable diseases at the Federal Health Office. He assured there were enough places at hospitals in Switzerland to cope with a potential epidemic.

Expat Swiss in Italy 

Hans-Peter Lenz, head of the foreign ministry’s crisis management centre, said they had no information at this stage of any Swiss citizen in Italy or in South Korea affected by coronavirus. 

He said there are about 33,000 registered expatriate Swiss citizens in northern Italy, where the virus appears to have spread fast over the past few days.

Lenz also said all the Swiss representations in Italy were open and an  information helpline provided assistance around the clock. 

He said the main concern among the expats in Italy is that the borders with Switzerland remain open.

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