March 16, 2020 / 10:18 AM / 3 months ago

Swiss order biggest military mobilization since WWII to fight virus

ZURICH/GENEVA (Reuters) - Switzerland mobilized up to 8,000 members of the military on Monday and banned all public and private events from midnight after declaring the rapidly spreading coronavirus an “exceptional” emergency that demanded more radical measures.

Swiss Defense Minister Amherd, Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter, President of the Swiss Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga and Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset attend a news conference on the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The military mobilization, Switzerland’s largest since World War II, includes a hospital battalion and comes after the government decided that measures enacted last week were insufficient to check the spread of the epidemic.

More than 2,330 people have tested positive for coronavirus so far in Switzerland, and at least 14 people have died.

Switzerland is also expanding border checks with Germany, France and Austria. Only Swiss citizens and residents and people traveling to Switzerland for business can enter the country.

“We know that the situation will get worse before it gets better, but it will get better,” Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference in Bern.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, train stations, banks, post offices, public offices, social services, hospitals, clinics and doctors offices are to remain open. Goods and people just transiting can also still enter the country.

Swiss traveling abroad were urged to return home.

“We will not leave you alone,” Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga said. “We will take care of you.”

Switzerland had previously canceled a session of its national parliament, while the canton of Geneva temporarily banned prostitution to help curb the widening spread of the new coronavirus.

That came after some 840 new infections on Sunday, resulting in a jump of more than 50% in a single day in the total number of cases.

Wedged between badly hit neighbors France, Italy and Germany, Switzerland has used emergency declarations to shift more powers to the federal government to enact measures to protect its 8.6 million residents. Bern last week made more than $10 billion available for economic aid.

The nation had already shut down schools for weeks, introduced border checks and severely curbed gatherings and events as part of efforts to protect, in particular, older residents who are at high risk.

Additional reporting by Michael Shields, Emma Farge, Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, Silke Koltrowitz and Oliver Hirt; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones

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