Coronavirus: Germany quarantines 1,000, Switzerland halts all big events

VIDEO: REUTERS
Members of a coronavirus crisis management group, of the western German administrative district of Heinsberg, gather on Feb 27, 2020.
Members of a coronavirus crisis management group, of the western German administrative district of Heinsberg, gather on Feb 27, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN/GENEVA (AFP) - Around 1,000 people were in quarantine in Germany's most populous state on Friday (Feb 28), as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Europe's biggest economy rose above 50.

The district of Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia said it had to take the step of keeping around 1,000 home, as an infected couple had participated in carnival celebrations in mid-February.

Schools and kindergartens were also shut in the district until Monday as the number of cases linked to the cluster reached 20.

In Hamburg, parents and children who were in contact with an infected employee at a university clinic have also been ordered to stay home for 14 days.

With cases now detected across several farther German states including Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria, Health Minister Jens Spahn said this week that Europe's biggest country was "at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic".

The government has ordered local authorities in the country's 16 states to update their pandemic readiness plans.

From Thursday, it had begun requiring travellers arriving from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy to provide contact details in case their movements had to be traced over possible infections.

The authorities are also poised to decide if international travel fair ITB is to be cancelled days before its scheduled opening in Berlin.

Swiss suspensions

In Switzerland, the Swiss government on Friday said it was suspending all events in the country involving more than 1,000 participants until March 15 in a bid to stop the coronavirus contagion.

"Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March," the government said in a statement after the country registered 15 cases.

"In the case of public or private events at which fewer than 1,000 people would gather, event organisers must carry out a risk assessment in conjunction with the competent cantonal authorities to decide whether or not the event can be held."

 
 

The government said it was "aware that this measure will have a significant impact on public life in Switzerland" but added that "it should prevent or delay the spread of the disease, thus reducing its momentum".

The federal government said that the scale of the outbreak allowed it to take special powers to order measures that are normally the responsibility of Switzerland's cantons. "The cantons are responsible for enforcing the ban," the statement said.

Health Minister Alain Berset said that similar measures had proved "effective" in other countries. He told reporters that the number of cases in Switzerland was "not a surprise for us", adding: "We have to expect an increase in cases in the next few days".

Switzerland has so far reported eight confirmed cases. Its first case surfaced only on Tuesday.