‘Smiling is the new handshake’: What measures are Swiss cantons taking to tackle coronavirus

'Smiling is the new handshake': What measures are Swiss cantons taking to tackle coronavirus
An Italian football fan says hi through his face mask (illustration). Photo: DÉCINES-CHARPIEU, FRANCE
The health authorities in the Swiss canton of Lucerne have recommended avoiding contact when greeting people under the slogan ‘smiling is the new handshake’.

The authorities have advised residents to keep their distance, saying that handshakes as well as hugs and kisses should be avoided when meeting people. 

Erwin Roos, the Secretary of the Department of Health and State Affairs, told the Luzerner Zeitung “we generally recommend not shaking hands if possible, even at schools”. 

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The measures come in addition to advice from the Zurich health authorities, calling upon residents to avoid nightclubs and contact with people from heavily affected areas. 

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The measures come in addition to those put out on Friday by the federal government to ban all events with more than 1,000 attendees. 

Lucerne: 'Smiling is the new handshake'

While Swiss businesses have recommended avoiding handshakes, Lucerne is the first canton to tell residents they should refrain from doing so. 

Lucerne authorities have also recommended anyone concerned not to go straight to the hospital emergency ward if they have flu symptoms, saying only “high-risk and serious patients” should seek hospital assistance. 

Anyone who has light or mild flu symptoms should treat them in the usual way, i.e. with rest at home. 

As at Wednesday evening, there are currently no known cases in Lucerne. 

Zurich: Avoid nightclubs and elderly people

An official advice issued by Zurich authorities on Tuesday afternoon recommended residents avoid parties and events with persons from heavily impacted areas, as well as advising the general public to keep their distance from older people.

The recommendations are in addition to the government's recent ban of events involving more than 1,000 people, however are advisory only and are not binding.

As at Wednesday evening, there are currently 13 known cases in Zurich – the highest of any Swiss canton. 

No events with more than 1,000 attendees

The Swiss government on Friday said it was suspending all events in the country involving more than 1,000 participants until March 15 in a bid to stop new coronavirus contagion.

“Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until March 15th,” the government said in a statement after the country registered its ninth case.

“In the case of public or private events at which fewer than 1,000 people would gather, event organisers must carry out a risk assessment in conjunction with the competent cantonal authorities to decide whether or not the event can be held”.

The government said it was “aware that this measure will have a significant impact on public life in Switzerland” but added that “it should prevent or delay the spread of the disease, thus reducing its momentum”.

The federal government said that the scale of the outbreak allowed it to take special powers to order measures that are normally the responsibility of Switzerland's cantons.

“The cantons are responsible for enforcing the ban,” the statement said.

Avoiding 'mask hysteria'

Health officials have frequently told the general public that healthy people should not wear masks and to refrain from purchasing them as they make it more difficult for sick people and medical professionals to access them. 

According to the WHO, around 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment. 

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. 

Some 3.4 percent of cases are fatal, according to the latest WHO figures. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.


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