Switzerland cancels parliament session, virus cases rise

ZURICH/LAUSANNE (Reuters) – Switzerland canceled a session of its national parliament, the government held crisis talks and the Swiss stock market plunged on Monday as new coronavirus cases accelerated.

A reported rise of some 840 new infections on Sunday brought total cases in Switzerland and neighboring Liechtenstein to 2,200, a jump of more than 50% in a single day and signaling that the disease’s spread is intensifying. Of the total cases, 1,563 are confirmed.

Switzerland, wedged between badly hit neighbors France, Italy and Germany, 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, which last week made more than $10 billion available for economic aid amid the crisis, still has room to intensify the order.

The government has shut down schools nationwide 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.

After a series of emergency meetings, Geneva on Monday ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, 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 prohibited, adding that some work-based exceptions could apply under strict conditions. The measures take effect this evening and will last until at least March 29.

Neuchatel declared a state of emergency on Sunday. Valais which hosts major ski resorts like Verbier and Zermatt decreed an “extraordinary situation” on Monday, with both cantons adopting new restrictions.

Already, ski resorts are emptying out.

Switzerland, whose central bank on Sunday joined global counterparts in boosting dollar liquidity for nervous markets, so far has reported 13 deaths. Six have been reported in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton that borders Italy where the infection has killed nearly 2,000 people.

The Swiss army is holding a special medical battalion in reserve for potential requests by regional health authorities for assistance.

Contrary to some Asian countries, Switzerland is limiting testing to the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions or those with severe symptoms.

Health Minister Alain Berset told a local paper at the weekend that the country is considering expanding testing in a move which epidemiologists say would likely result in a huge increase in cases.

Switzerland’s biggest party, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), said on Sunday the government should extend the stricter measures taken in some cantons to the country as a whole and all borders should be closed.

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