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ARMY

Swiss drafts army as coronavirus cases spike

The Swiss government said Wednesday it will deploy troops in cantons where under-pressure health services require support as coronavirus cases spike.

Swiss drafts army as coronavirus cases spike
Army is helping hospitals to handle influx of patients. Photo by AFP

The Federal Council, the country's highest executive authority, said it had “decided to support the public health sector by mobilising up to 2,500 troops as backup.”

It said authorities would consider requests from individual cantons as the virus' second wave hits the country hard.

The army will notably assist hospitals in administering basic care and testing as Switzerland looks to ramp up capacity with some hospitals in worst-affected regions seeing intensive care facilities approaching saturation point.

The government said troops also may be deployed to assist with transport of infected people.

Authorities in the French-speaking Fribourg canton had Friday called for military assistance saying they could no longer cope with the skyrocketing number of cases.

Relative to neighbouring countries, Switzerland avoided the worst of the first wave but has seen 10,000 fresh cases and 72 deaths since Tuesday while the proportion of positive tests rose to one in four.

The country of 8.56 million has a death toll of some 2,500 to date for some 200,000 declared cases.

Virginie Masserey, head of vaccination strategies at the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, warned intensive care facilities could reach saturation point as early as Sunday.

During the first wave, the army had helped deliver millions of sanitary masks to shops. 

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ARMY

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home

On Monday, Switzerland imposed the working from home requirement. It includes the army as well.

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home
barracks are not as posh as one's own home. Photo by AFP

As part of Switzerland’s mandatory military service, new conscripts must undergo 15 to 18 weeks of basic training.

The exercises were supposed to begin on January 18th, but thousands of recruits who were scheduled to report to their assigned barracks got a reprieve of sorts.

To decrease the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the barracks, the army has decided that recruits should do their basic training  at home for the next three weeks.

“It's quite new”, Swiss army spokesperson Daniel Reist told the media, adding that “it is the ideal solution” during the pandemic. 

As a result of this unprecedented measure, some 5,000 of this year's 15,000 recruits will undergo their training from the comfort of their homes.

Reist said that each soldier received the learning module covering subjects such the operation of their service weapon, information on bacteriological and chemical arms, military regulations, and health protection.

“We leave them the choice of when to do their lessons, but they need six hours of telework each day”, Reist said.

Four hours of physical activity a week is also included in the training.

Though left pretty much to their own devices, the recruits won’t be able to slack off as their superiors can monitor when the person logs on and off.

And this theoretical knowledge will be tested when the recruits arrive at the barracks after three weeks home.

READ MORE: Swiss army 'on the front lines' in coronavirus battle 

Nor all the troops will be deployed at the same time, however.

The physical entry into the recruit school will be “staggered, in order to ensure that any conscript who tests positive for Covid-19 is optimally supported and that appropriate isolation and quarantine measures can be taken”, the Federal Department of Defense said in a press release

The first group, consisting of medical personnel who could be called upon to support the troops already mobilised with civilian personnel in Swiss hospitals, begin their service on Monday.

Those who are training from home will be called up on February 8th.

But not everyone is impressed by the new system.

“I can see that we have to make unconventional concessions right now, but I'm skeptical. Military service has a practical and social character which can’t be replaced by e-learning “, said Stefan Holenstein, president of the Swiss Society of Officers.

Despite its neutrality, Switzerland has compulsory military service. After undergoing basic training at the age of 19, Swiss are then required to spend several weeks in the army each year until they have completed at least 245 days of service.

Conscription is for men only but women can volunteer for any post.

READ MORE: Switzerland to get 24/7 fighter jet protection from 2021

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