Swiss parliament recesses as virus cases soar

by Reuters
Monday, 16 March 2020 15:23 GMT

(Adds more cases of virus, cantonal measures)

By John Miller and Cecile Mantovani

ZURICH/GENEVA, March 16 (Reuters) - Switzerland cancelled a session of its national parliament, the government held crisis talks and the canton of Geneva temporarily banned prostitution on Monday to help curb the widening spread of the new coronavirus.

A reported rise of some 840 new infections on Sunday brought total cases in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein to 2,200, a jump of more than 50% in a single day. Of the total cases, 1,563 were confirmed.

Wedged between badly hit neighbours France, Italy and Germany, Switzerland has labeled the outbreak a "special situation", shifting more power to the federal government to enact measures to protect its 8.6 million residents.

Bern last week made more than $10 billion available for economic aid.

The government was meeting in emergency session. It has already shut down schools for weeks, introduced border checks and severely curbed gatherings and events as part of efforts to protect, in particular, older residents who are at high risk.

Some cantons have gone further.

Geneva closed bars, restaurants and religious services and temporarily banned prostitution, which is legal in the country. The canton, which hosts many private banks and commodity trading firms, said gatherings of more than five people were largely prohibited until at least March 29.

Gerald Bonjioanni, manager of Geneva restaurant Le Café du Soleil, said business this year had been down 15-20%.

"Already last week, we saw it was decreasing a lot and now, well, here we go, March is ending today for us," he said.

Vaud canton, one of two most badly affected cantons alongside Ticino, said it would limit gatherings to 10 people and close all non-essential shops.

Already, ski resorts were emptying out.

Manchester native Adam Waddington, who lives in Scotland, was out getting some sun in Geneva before flying home early.

"I'd like to see my mum but after having been to France and Switerland on holiday and mixing with other people I'm not sure that's a good idea," he said.

Six deaths have been reported in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton that borders Italy where the infection has killed nearly 2,000 people.

A Swiss army special medical battalion was handling requests by regional health authorities for assistance.

Switzerland is limiting testing to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions or those with severe symptoms, but that may expand.

In Basel, the Bank for International Settlements said a staff member working at the central bank for central banks had tested positive for COVID-19. (Additonal reporting by Emma Farge, Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, Silke Koltrowitz and Oliver Hirt; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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