UPDATE 1-Swiss firms put 1.3 mln workers on shorter hours as epidemic guts economy

UPDATE 1-Swiss firms put 1.3 mln workers on shorter hours as epidemic guts economy

Reuters·2020-04-04 21:17

(Adds comments from press conference) By Silke Koltrowitz and John Miller WINTERTHUR/USTER, Switzerland, April 4 (Reuters) - A quarter of Switzerland’s workers have been put on shorter hours as companies seek to limit the financial damage of the coronavirus epidemic, the government said on Saturday, with both deaths and confirmed infections still rising. The national death toll from the outbreak has reached 540, up from 484 on Friday, while the number of people testing positive for infections also increased to 20,278 from 19,303, the health ministry said. While the country is testing more and more people, the health ministry said the main reason for seeing more confirmed cases is that infections continue to rise. Switzerland has approved a total economic aid package exceeding 60 billion Swiss francs ($61.37 billion) to help soften the epidemic’s impact. Some 1.3 million workers, from a population of 8.6 million people, are on short-time work hours, a program normally meant to help firms temper fluctuating demand but which has been deployed now with unprecedented speed. “The economy will not exit this crisis unscathed,” said Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, economy ministry state secretary. “Even so, with all the economic measures it has deployed, the government is creating confidence and opportunity in the future for everyone in Switzerland.” An emergency scheme to provide no- and low-interest loans to help businesses survive liquidity crises because sales have collapsed was doubled to 40 billion francs on Friday after the program was flooded by 76,000 requests so far. Daniel Koch, the federal health ministry’s coronavirus czar, again cautioned Swiss residents to stay home and not to expect a swift easing of restrictions like shop and restaurant closures. “We can’t lift any measures before the number of infections really starts going down,” he said. Six percent of deaths were people under 65, but the median age of those who have died in Switzerland so far is 83, Koch said, with 97% suffering from previous illnesses, underscoring those most at risk from COVID-19. The most common condition was high blood pressure with 69%, followed by cardiovascular disease at 55% and diabetes at 29%. “We absolutely want to protect our risk groups,” Koch said. “Those are the people who are taxing our hospital resources and the ones who must fear for their lives.” (Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, Silke Koltrowitz and John Miller Editing by Frances Kerry)

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