By Oliver Hirt and John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s confirmed coronavirus infections jumped to more than 10,000 cases on Thursday, as health officials warned it was too early to lift restrictions on gatherings and border controls aimed at slowing the epidemic.
Switzerland is pumping billions of francs into its crisis-hit economy while army medical units are being deployed at hospitals to help in crisis regions like Ticino, bordering hard-hit Italy.
The Alpine country of 8.6 million people had 10,714 confirmed cases and 161 people have died as of Thursday morning, the Federal Office of Public Health said, up from 103 deaths and 9,765 cases on Wednesday.
“It’s without question too early to think about easing restrictions,” Daniel Koch, head of infectious diseases at the federal health agency, said at a news conference in Bern. “This is a marathon without kilometre markers.”
Companies rushed to tap their banks for 20 billion Swiss francs ($20.58 billion) worth of state-backed loans that became available on Thursday. Loans of less than 500,000 francs were interest-free.
Credit Suisse said it received 2,700 loan applications and had paid out half a billion francs by midday in a fast-track procedure. UBS said it had had 3,000 applications.
Post office bank PostFinance [PFAG.UL], allowed to lend for the first time under the emergency programme, said small businesses were seeking sums ranging from 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,348.75)to far more than 200,000.
“There are over 100 banks registered for the programme, and there will be more to follow,” said Erik Jakob, of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. “Since yesterday, we’ve seen 70,000 downloads of the applications for assistance.”
Heinz Schibli, a Zurich berry grower, plans to apply, as he faces a potential double hit: would-be workers from Eastern Europe have so far been blocked from reaching Switzerland due to border restrictions, while a sinking economy could dent demand, he said.
“We’re dependent on our profits this year to pay for plants for next year,” he told Reuters. “If we can’t generate the money, we can’t buy the plants, and then we’ll have a new problem.”
Some cities including Lucerne have also added drive-thru coronavirus testing to tackle the virus spread.
For weeks, the government has urged people remain at home, imposed border controls and banned gatherings of more than five people, under threat of a 100 franc fine.
The Swiss army, which has not been mobilised since World War Two, is also helping healthcare workers on the front line in the battle against coronavirus.
($1 = 0.9718 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields, John Revill, Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean and Alexandra Hudson)