Swiss take 'middle path' in curbs to slow COVID without crippling economy

·2 min read

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland on Wednesday ordered dance clubs closed and added new mask requirements while leaving the nation largely open for business as it tries to contain surging COVID-19 cases without resorting to a stricter, economy-crippling lockdown.

The government in Bern ordered in-person college classes halted from Monday, placed new limits on sporting and leisure activities, and ordered masks worn in packed offices, secondary schools and even outdoors if people cannot keep their distance.

Switzerland, which in June appeared to have COVID-19 contained as daily cases dwindled to just a handful, saw new infections soar to 8,616 on Wednesday - roughly 0.1% of the population in a single day.

Even so, the government stopped short of shutting retail business, restaurants and other key segments of the economy in hopes that more-limited measures will be enough.

"We have to work with a scalpel and make very precise cuts," Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters in Bern. "If it's not possible to get the virus under control, then other measures are possible. But we're trying to take a middle path."

In some regions, hospitals and intensive care units are filling up, with doctors warning the health care system could be stretched to breaking point within 10 days.

To help avoid such a scenario, public gatherings will be limited to 50 people or less, and sporting and cultural activities with more than 15 people will be banned.

Bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., while private family gatherings will be capped at 10 people.

The country plans to deploy up to 80,000 COVID-19 tests daily - 50,000 rapid antigen tests and 30,000 of the more accurate molecular tests - to expand screening capacity stretched by rising cases.

As domestic infection rates now exceed much of Europe, the Swiss also eased quarantine requirements for incoming travellers, with only areas abroad with rates 60% higher than Switzerland affected.

Officials were seeking to minimize impacts with the package, which includes numerous exceptions including for children under 16.

"We don't have any time to lose," President Simonetta Sommaruga said. "The damage to the economy would be greater if we were to do nothing now."

The new measures are indefinite.

The country will refrain for now from expanding measures to support business after concluding existing programmes are sufficient to soften the pandemic's blow, the government said.

(Reporting by John Miller, John Revill and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, editing by Michael Shields and Nick Macfie)

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