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Swiss beef up measures to contain Sars

Travellers from Sars-infected countries will have to give their details

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland is stepping up efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly Sars pneumonia virus, including tougher airport checks.

From next week, all passengers flying into Switzerland from Sars-infected countries will have to fill out a questionnaire listing their travel details.

Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) broke out in China last November, but has since spread to more than 20 countries. To date, the disease has killed at least 326 people and affected more than 5,000.

As the death toll from the virus continues to rise worldwide, health officials have warned of the potential catastrophic effects on the economy if Sars is allowed to spread to Switzerland.

On Monday the Federal Health Office announced that travellers arriving at Zurich and Geneva airports from affected countries would have to fill out a questionnaire upon arrival.

They will have to give details of where they have come from and where they will be staying during their time in Switzerland.

Virus

Pierre-Alain Raeber, head of infectious diseases at the Federal Health Office, told the "Le Temps" newspaper that the information would help the Swiss authorities to trace people in the event of an infection.

Should visitors show symptoms of the illness, they will be referred to a doctor.

They will also be issued with information leaflets in Chinese, English, French and German, explaining what steps need to be taken if they fall ill.

Finally, a special hotline has been set up to answer travellers' questions.

The measures come two days after Asian health ministers agreed to pre-travel checks of passengers leaving Sars-infected countries, in line with recommendations issued last week by the World Health Organization.

Threat

At the weekend Thomas Zeltner, director of the Federal Health Office, warned that the virus was a major problem that could last for months, if not years.

Zeltner said he would propose tough new measures to the government this week in a bid to stop Sars spreading.

Switzerland has registered ten suspected cases of Sars. All of them are being analysed in laboratories, but there has been no confirmation of the virus in Switzerland so far.

The health office has ten people working full time on researching the disease and has set aside SFr150,000 ($110,000) per month to fund the work.

Roche

On Monday the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche, announced that it was hoping to launch a diagnostic test for the virus by the end of July.

Scientists at the world's biggest diagnostics group are trying to develop test kits and drugs to treat the flu-like illness.

"We are developing now a Sars-specific test. We believe this will be developed by the middle of June and will be on the market by the end of July," said spokesman Alexander Klauser.

Some areas of the Swiss economy, notably its national airline Swiss, have already been hit by the Sars crisis.

In mid-April, Swiss announced it would cancel a large chunk of its short and long haul flights, after the Sars virus, and the war in Iraq, caused a slump in ticket sales.

The seat load factor on Swiss flights to China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore - where most cases of the virus have been reported - dropped from 86 per cent last April to 59 per cent over the past two weeks.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Sars first broke out in China last November, but has since spread to more than 20 countries.
To date, the virus has killed at least 326 people and sickened more than 5,000.
Switzerland has registered ten suspected cases of Sars, none of which have been confirmed to date.
The Federal Health Office has a team of ten full-time staff researching Sars, and has dedicated SFr150,000 ($110,000) to fund the work.

end of infobox


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