Switzerland confirms first coronavirus case

Swiss guards on the border with neighbouring Italy on February 25 Keystone / Pablo Gianinazzi

Switzerland reported its first coronavirus case on Tuesday in canton Ticino in the south of the country which borders Italy. 

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Laboratory tests carried out in Geneva uncovered a coronavirus case in canton Ticino, authorities said on Tuesday. The Federal Office of Public Health told reporters in Bern that the male patient was in his seventies and had been infected in the Milan region of Italy during an event on February 15. The first symptoms appeared two days later, explained FOPH director Pascal Strupler.

The pensioner has remained with his family ever since. He is now in isolation at a clinic in Lugano, canton Ticino, but is said to be doing well. Those who have been in contact with him will be tested and placed in quarantine to monitor their condition over the next 14 days.

Still "normal situation"

According to FOPH, this first case does not change the risk assessment in Switzerland. At present the new coronavirus poses only a moderate ri

sk to the population, health officials say.

“We are still in a normal situation,” Strupler added. However, the probability of further cases being diagnosed is increasing. Medical institutions are prepared to carry out early detection and testing of suspected cases. 

They said it was not necessary at this stage to take further measures, such as closing schools. New measures would be considered if authorities had the impression that virus transmission was not under control.

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

Daniel Koch, head of the department of communicable diseases at the FOPH, said there were currently 70 outstanding suspected cases in Switzerland being tested, spread throughout the country - including several in cantons Bern and Basel but only a small number in canton Ticino. Test results will be known in the coming hours, he said. 

On Monday the Swiss authorities announced that they were beefing up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus from neighbouring Italy, while stressing that the situation in Switzerland is under control. 

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.  An information campaign with flyers and posters has been launched at borders and airports for travellers and commuters. Public transport staff and border guards will receive specific instructions. A hotline has been strengthened and a hygiene campaign will be launched in the coming days.


Austria and Rome

The Swiss announcement comes as neighbouring Austria also reported its first two confirmed cases on Tuesday. The two patients are Italians who live in the border province of Tyrol and recently travelled to Lombardy, one of the two regions at the epicentre of the Italian outbreak.

Austria has had more than 200 suspected cases so far but all had tested negative.

The number of cases in Italy has ballooned from three last Friday to 322 confirmed cases and 11 deaths, most in Lombardy and neighbouring Veneto. Italian authorities have rushed to seal off the worst affected towns but the virus has continued to spread and authorities reported an infection in Sicily, the first case south of Rome, on Tuesday.

Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset was in the Italian capital, Rome, on Tuesday, meeting his counterparts from Italy, Austria, Germany, France and Slovenia to discuss the outbreak and cross-border coordination.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases globally has risen above 80,000. It has killed more than 2,600 people, most in China, and spread to some 29 other countries.

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