Explained: What lies behind Switzerland’s high rate of Covid-19 infections per million

Explained: What lies behind Switzerland's high rate of Covid-19 infections per million

Restaurant and shop are closed in the main street of the medieval town, empty and without tourist, in front of "Le Moleson" mountain during the state of emergency of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, outbreak, in the tourist location Gruyeres, Switzerland, Friday, March 27, 2020. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

As of March 29 (Saturday), Switzerland had 12,928 cases of coronavirus and 231 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. The country has among the world's highest rate of infections per million people (1,340), more than Spain (1,200 cases) and Italy (1,190 cases). The United States, which has the highest number of infections in the world (104,837), has a relatively lower infection rate (210/million).

The Swiss government has categorised the situation in the country as “extraordinary”, thus allowing authorities to take over some powers from the 26 Swiss cantons (constituent units), according to a swissinfo.ch report.

Proximity to northern Italy

One reason for the country’s high rate of infection is believed to be its proximity to northern Italy. A large section of Switzerland’s southern border is shared with Italy’s Lombardy region -- the country’s worst hit, making up around 35,000 of Italy’s more than 80,000 cases.

It was in Switzerland’s Italian speaking Ticino canton, which borders Lombardy, where the country’s first novel coronavirus case was detected on February 25. Ticino’s medical infrastructure was soon overwhelmed. The canton has since had the most number of deaths due to the virus, despite making up less than 4 per cent of the country’s population of around 8.5 million.

According to a report in a Switzerland publication The Local, Swiss authorities did not close down the border with Italy soon enough, believing that taking such a step would cause more harm. More than 68,000 workers from Italy continued to cross the border into Switzerland every day, many of whom were employed in the healthcare sector.

Inadequate social distancing measures

According to The Local, Switzerland’s social distancing measures were also inadequate. On February 28, the Swiss government banned gatherings with more than 1,000 people, including football matches and carnivals. However, subsequent clampdown measures did not arrive fast enough.

The Graubünden canton, a popular winter destination, witnessed a highly busy ski season. The canton, where less than 2 per cent of Switzerland’s people live, now has around 10 per cent of deaths due to the novel coronavirus.

Testing efforts

Switzerland initially adopted a strategy of only testing those who showed the most serious symptoms, testing around 2,500 cases per day. Efforts were later ramped up to 6,000 tests in some cantons.

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