Swiss hold off on new nationwide measures as COVID-19 infections surge

Passengers wear protective masks as they enter a tram tram of public transport operator Verkehrsbetriebe Zurich

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss health officials refrained from new nationwide measures to curb spread of the novel coronavirus as the number of infections mounted on Thursday, instead urging residents to redouble their efforts to embrace existing hygiene and distancing recommendations.

“Infections with the coronavirus are rising again strongly and quickly. Time is thus running out again and we are calling on the entire population to contribute to keeping the virus in check,” President Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference in Bern after federal and cantonal officials met.

“The faster we react, the smaller the restrictions for the population and the economy,” she added.

New infections rose by 2,613 cases on Thursday, the second-highest daily total after Wednesday’s record.

Health Minister Alain Berset said the authorities were concerned but considered the matter to be under control.

“The goal is to avoid a lockdown and overloading hospitals,” he said, noting the situation was not comparable to February and March, when the pandemic took authorities by surprise.

He said he saw no reason to stop large events like soccer and ice hockey matches given elaborate safety regimes in place.

Switzerland has been adding to its list of places from which travellers must enter quarantine but the federal government has not tightened domestic restrictions on public life since ending nearly all emergency measures in June.

That is when it handed responsibility to cantons, where rules on public gatherings and mask requirements vary widely.

Encouraged by falling infection rates, Switzerland had in April begun easing sweeping measures, including shuttering schools, non-essential shops and many businesses for more than a month.

It has also extended billions in aid to businesses, but the economy still had its sharpest decline in the second quarter since quarterly records began in 1980.

(Reporting by Michael Shields, Editing by John Revill)