GENEVA • Swiss officials on Thursday warned that the country was facing a shortage of tests for the coronavirus, and said intensive care units (ICUs) were overflowing in the southern Ticino region.
Switzerland has now registered more than 4,800 coronavirus cases, including 43 deaths, making the small Alpine country of 8.5 million people one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic compared to its population size.
The country has been trying to ramp up its testing for the deadly disease, but Dr Daniel Koch of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health warned that the supply was running out.
“There has been an increase in the number of tests in recent days that has pushed Switzerland’s test supply to the limit,” he told reporters, adding that there was a need for now to reserve testing for the most serious cases.
He said Switzerland was trying to procure more tests, but that this was proving difficult because “the entire world is currently searching for tests”.
The canton of Ticino, which borders hard-hit northern Italy, has been heavily impacted by the outbreak.
Ticino has the highest incidence of coronavirus in Switzerland, with nearly 180 cases per 100,000 residents, government statistics show. That suggests it accounts for some 16 per cent of the country’s total coronavirus cases, with only around 4 per cent of its population, Reuters reported.
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset warned that the region’s hospitals were “reaching the limits of their capacity”.
Dr Koch said the situation in Ticino was “dramatic”.
He suggested in an interview with the Swiss public broadcaster that if significant measures were not taken quickly, the canton could run out of intensive care beds by Monday.
Across Switzerland, Dr Koch said, only around 160 intensive care beds out of 800 remained free, as healthcare demand soared.
The Swiss authorities also described the impact of some of the dramatic measures introduced last week, including banning public gatherings and closing schools, restaurants, bars and most shops, to rein in the spread of the virus.
Amid new tight border restrictions, around 11,000 people had been rejected entry to the non-European Union country in recent days, Mr Christian Bock, head of the Swiss Customs service, told reporters.
Switzerland’s economy is expected to suffer a heavy blow, with a group of experts from the Economic Affairs Ministry on Thursday anticipating a contraction of 1.5 per cent this year.
In December, the experts had forecast that the Swiss economy would grow 1.3 per cent this year.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS