Swiss prioritise old and sick in battle against coronavirus

Cleaning ambulance equipment in canton Ticino Keystone / Pool


The Swiss government has shifted its focus in the fight against the coronavirus to protecting those most vulnerable. The army will also be available to give cantons support. 

Keystone-SDA/SRF/Swiss government/Reuters/ilj

The move comes one day after the first death from the virus was announced, that of a 74-year-old woman in canton Vaud who suffered from additional health problems. 

+ First coronavirus death recorded in Switzerland

"The focus is on protecting the health of particularly vulnerable people," the government said in a statement on Friday, released after a government meeting. "The aim is to prevent serious illnesses and deaths as well as avoiding overloading health facilities." 

Those considered vulnerable as defined as over 65 and those suffering from medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer or who have weakened immune systems. 

Until now, the main goal of the Swiss effort was to identify people as early as possible, track the path of transmission and stop further transmission.

The number of cases rose again on Friday, with canton Thurgau also reporting its first case. The Federal Office of Public Health said diagnosed cases had reached 210 (cantons use different criteria which accounts for the discrepancies in number of cases reported by them).

“We are at the start of an infection wave,” the health minister Alain Berset told reporters at a press conference on Friday.  

Recommendations, schools  

New recommendations have been issued for the population and the workforce that include avoiding visits to old people’s homes and hospitals where possible and avoiding peak travel times. 

Both Berset and Daniel Koch, the head of infectious diseases at the Federal Office of Public Health, said it was up to the population to show solidarity: people with mild symptoms should not go to hospital emergency departments over the weekend. 

On Monday children should go to school as normal – some cantons are starting term again after the half-term holidays – there will be no closures, Koch said. Closures mean children being looked after by grandparents and this is “not the situation we want” he said. 

Army 

The government will allow the army to support cantons over three weeks in their fight against the spread of the virus, Berset announced. This follows a request from canton Ticino bordering Italy, which had the first coronavirus case. Here army members will help out in hospitals. Up to 800 army staff could be called upon, Berset said in response to a question. 

Also under consideration are the economic effects of the virus, Berset said. 

The government also freed up CHF9 million ($9.6 million) for research: CHF5 million for the Swiss National Science Foundation and CHF4 million for the World Health Organization, Berset announced.  


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