Switzerland faces looming lack of hospital beds as coronavirus death toll rises

Switzerland faces looming lack of hospital beds as coronavirus death toll rises
An ambulance leaves the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) on March 18. AFP
Swiss officials have warned the country was facing a shortage of tests for the new coronavirus, and said intensive care units were overflowing in the southern Ticino region. The death toll in the country has risen to 43.

Switzerland has now registered some 4,800 cases of COVID-19, including 43 deaths, the authorities said Friday, making the small Alpine country of 8.5 million people one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic compared to its population size.

The country has been trying to ramp up its testing, but Daniel Koch from the Swiss federal office of public health warned the supply was running out.

“There has been an increase in the number of tests in recent days that has pushed Switzerland's test supply to the limit,” he told reporters, saying there was a need for now to reserve testing for the most serious cases.

He said Switzerland was trying to procure more tests, but it was difficult since “the entire world is currently searching for tests”.

The canton of Ticino, which borders hard-hit northern Italy, has been heavily impacted by the outbreak, counting more than 200 cases.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset warned at a press conference that the region's hospitals were “reaching the limits of their capacity”.

Koch said the situation in Ticino was “dramatic”.

He suggested in an interview with the Swiss public broadcaster that if significant measures were not taken quickly, the canton could run out of intensive care beds by Monday.

Across Switzerland, he said that only around 160 intensive care beds out of 800 remained free, as demand soars.

Swiss authorities also described the impact of some of the dramatic measures introduced last Friday, including banning public gatherings and closing schools, restaurants, bars and most shops, to rein in the spread of the virus.

Amid new tight border restrictions, around 11,000 people had been rejected entry to the non-EU country in recent days, Christian Bock, the head of the Swiss customs service, told reporters.

Switzerland's economy is expected to suffer a heavy blow, with a group of experts with the economic affairs ministry on Thursday anticipating a contraction of 1.5 percent this year.

In December, the experts had forecasted that the Swiss economy would grow 1.3 percent in 2020.

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