Swiss health minister says new COVID-19 measures likely to last long time

·1-min read
Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Bern
Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Bern

ZURICH (Reuters) - New Swiss restrictions slated to be announced on Wednesday to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19 will likely be in place "a long time", Health Minister Alain Berset said on Monday, as new infections hit 17,440 over the weekend.

New infections doubled from last weekend, with total recorded cases rising to 121,093 as Switzerland is engulfed in a second wave of infections. Thirty-seven people died, nearly three-fold fatalities a week ago, bringing total deaths to 1,914.

Switzerland's 26 cantons are putting in place a patchwork of regional restrictions, including new closing times for bars as well as moves to limit elective medical procedures at hospitals. Still, the federal government is waiting until Wednesday to announce a package for the country of 8.6 million people, whose infection rate is now among the highest in Europe.

"What we're preparing now will likely last a long time," Berset said at a news conference in Lausanne. "We're not making decisions on Wednesday for Friday, we're making decisions for the next weeks and months."

Even so, Berset said that the measures were likely not going to match in severity those put in place earlier this year, when schools were shuttered, many retail shops forced to close and most gatherings banned. Effective contact tracing and testing, including with new rapid antigen tests, will be central, he said.

In March, Switzerland needed a lockdown to reduce contacts and infections, Berset said. "Now, we need to do better, we need to achieve it with hygiene, distance, masks."

(Reporting by John Miller and Silke Koltrowitz, Editing by Michael Shields)