Some Swiss cantons tighten Covid-19 measures, others wait

People waiting at a corona test centre in Basel on Friday Keystone / Georgios Kefalas

While some Swiss cantons imposed more drastic anti-coronavirus measures on Friday, others have decided to wait. The moves come as new cases spiked to over 6,600.

This content was published on October 23, 2020 - 14:26

The total number of new nationwide cases recorded on Friday was a record 6,634, the Swiss health authorities said, and continues the steep rise during the week.

They confirmed that the country was now more badly affected than its neigbours: it now has 495 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Only France approaches these levels at 450 cases per 100,000. “We absolutely have to respect hygiene rules,” said Stefan Kuster from the Federal Office of Public Health.

Overall, there have now been more than 100,000 cases -  103,653 cases to be precise - since the start of the epidemic.

Meanwhile, there have been further reactions from the cantons, which, under the Swiss federal system, are currently in charge of local measures to combat the virus.

The Swiss government has said that is not planning to take over the management of the pandemic, as it did in spring. But it did announce some national measures on Sunday, like the compulsory wearing of masks in public buildings. It is due to set out further measures on Wednesday. These are expected to include limitations for restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as private and public gatherings.

Cantons reacting first

But some cantons have already decided to tighten measures. These will either start on Friday or come in over the weekend, depending on the canton.

Jura was first to announce that bars and restaurants would not be allowed to open after 10pm. Amateur team and contact sports are also prohibited and meetings, gatherings and demonstrations will be limited to 15 people, including children.

The aim is to stop Jura’s main hospital becoming more overloaded – with Covid-19 cases rising fivefold - than in spring, the canton said on Friday.

French-speaking cantons Fribourg, Vaud and Neuchâtel have also imposed limits on public and private gatherings (ten people); Geneva is even stricter, setting the limit at five (children under 12 not included). In Fribourg and Neuchâtel, bars and restaurants will close at 11pm and many leisure and entertainment venues are to be temporarily shut down.Geneva,

Vaud and Fribourg have decided to ban events of more than 1,000 people, as has canton Solothurn, in the German-speaking part of the country.

Also taking more drastic measures is canton Bern - this includes a curfew between 11pm and 6am for restaurants. Masks are now obligatory at work with a few exceptions in canton Lucerne. It also closes down catering and clubs overnight. Basel City canton is also closing restaurants from 11pm-6am, Basel Country from 11pm-5am.

Canton Schaffhausen has focused on schools: all teachers at all levels will have to wear masks from next Tuesday, primary pupils are exempt, but secondary 1 pupils (12-15) will have to wear masks.

But German-speaking canton Zurich – the most-populous canton and one of the most affected – has decided not to announce any further measures before the government next Wednesday. It will apply what has already been announced by Bern more stringently – including building up contact tracing, officials said. The central canton of Uri is also waiting.

Valais was the first canton to tighten its rules on Thursday.

National verses local

The moves come after cantonal health directors held a meeting with the Swiss minister in charge of health, Alain Berset, on Thursday.

Both the cantons and government stated that they were against a national lockdown. “We need a slowdown, not a lockdown,” said Lukas Engelberger, head of the cantonal health directors, on Thursday after the meeting. “We have to be ready to compromise on our free time and live with limitations [on our lives].”

However, virologists and epidemiologists in the country have been warning that the country’s approach may be too little, too late.

On Friday, Martin Ackermann, the head of the country’s Covid-19 Science Task Force, said that hospitalisations were doubling week by week. Not enough was being done, he said. He urged people to keep their contact with others to a minimum, while the head of the association of cantonal doctors asked people to avoid “delicate situations”, by keeping to social distancing and avoid risky sports and leisure activities.

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