UPDATE 1-Swiss coronavirus cases top 10,000, with 161 deaths


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ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s confirmed cases of coronavirus infections topped 10,000 on Thursday as the government pumped money into the crisis-hit economy and army medical units helped hospitals handle the spreading epidemic.

FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing a protection suit tells a woman that she can enter a container of Medbase medical center, used for tests on coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on a square in Winterthur, Switzerland March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The country had 10,714 confirmed cases and 161 people have died of the disease as of Thursday morning, the Federal Office of Public Health said.

That was up from 103 deaths and 9,765 cases on Wednesday.

The Swiss government and central bank are pouring money into the slowing economy to prevent it from crumbling.

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 had got 2,700 loan applications and had paid out half a billion francs by midday in a fast-track procedure. UBS said it saw 3,000 applications shortly after the programme started.

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 francs to far more than 200,000.

The government has urged people to stay at home, imposed strict border controls and banned gatherings of more than five people in steps aimed at helping curb the epidemic’s spread.

The Swiss army, which has not been mobilised since World War Two and then only in defensive mode, is help healthcare workers on the front line of the war against coronavirus.

Still, the state campaign has exposed cracks in the highly decentralised Swiss political system that gives individual cantons a big say in how to run their affairs.

Some experts also said the federal government was too hesitant to take aggressive action despite experts’ warnings.

“My confidence in politics has been shattered these last weeks,” Marcel Salathe, head of the digital epidemiology laboratory at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told newspaper Le Temps.

He said it was very clear for weeks that Switzerland would face a dramatic situation. “Unfortunately we were not taken seriously and we had no support from the political class. In the eyes of many, we were just alarmists,” he said.

Additional reporting by Michael Shields, Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by William Maclean


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