Switzerland is particularly affected by the coronavirus epidemic. More than 2,200 people have been infected in the country and nearly 20 people have died.
The government banned all private and public events starting at midnight on March 17. It also ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, sports facilities and cultural spaces. Only businesses providing essential goods to the population – such as grocery stores, bakeries, and pharmacies – are to remain open. The new measures are in place until April 19, Swissinfo reported.
“We know that this decision disrupts the daily life of our country,” said Interior Minister Alain Berset, warning that the situation would get worse before it gets better.
Largest army mobilization since World War II
Hospitals and clinics must stay open but only for necessary procedures. Up to 8,000 members of the military will be mobilized to help contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus. This represents the largest army mobilization since World War II.
The authorities advised that individuals at higher risk of complications from the virus – “vulnerable populations” – must work from home or be put on paid leave when that is not possible.
On the education front, schools will be closed until April 19. Childcare centers may only be closed if other suitable childcare facilities are available.
The Switzerland has also decided to introduce border checks with Germany, France, and Austria. Only Swiss citizens, Swiss residents and people traveling to Switzerland for business are allowed to enter the Alpine nation.
The Swiss government had faced growing pressure to declare a state of emergency at the national level. By Monday, several cantons had already scaled up their response to the coronavirus. Geneva, home to many international organizations and multinational corporations, banned gatherings of more than five people.
Europe is the latest frontline in the global effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Several countries – including Italy, Spain, and France – have already imposed stringent lockdowns in a bid to halt the disease. In that context, some criticized the government for being slow to react.
“Faced with the sluggish reaction of certain political authorities and the complacency of the media, anger is brewing within the Swiss community of doctors, caregivers, scientists and other specialists who are called upon to help our population face the COVID-19 cataclysm,” Didier Trono, professor at the virology and genetics laboratory at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), told Swiss public television, RTS.
Bertrand Kiefer, director of the Swiss Medical Review, took to Twitter to denounce the fact that the Swiss government has given up on testing all suspected cases. “Now we don’t know the reality of the epidemic,” he said.
The novel coronavirus, that causes a respiratory disease known as COVID-19, emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei Province late last year. It has killed more than 6,500 worldwide, according to an estimate from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization and additional sources.