ZURICH (REUTERS) - Switzerland announced tighter measures on Wednesday (Jan 13) to tackle new variants of the Covid-19 virus spreading across the country but fell short of implementing the full lockdown imposed by neighbouring countries to tackle the pandemic.
The country also eased rules on allowing pandemic-hit businesses to apply for state financial aid in hardship cases.
Governments across Europe have announced tighter and longer coronavirus lockdowns over fears about a fast-spreading variant first detected in Britain, with vaccinations not expected to help much for another two to three months.
Switzerland, which has so far taken a lighter touch to restricting business and public life, said it will close shops selling non-essential supplies from Monday.
It also ordered companies to require that employees work from home where possible or where it won't create a disproportionate burden. In workplaces where this was not possible, staff in offices with more than one worker would have to wear masks at all time.
The government extended the closure of restaurants, cultural and sport sites by five weeks to now run until the end of February, confirming measures it proposed last week.
Private gatherings will now be limited to five people, the government added. The previous limit was 10 people.
"Infection rates are stagnating at a very high level and with the new, much more infectious virus variants, there is a threat of a rapid resurgence," the government said in a statement.
The government said it was concerned about the new Covid-19 variants, including from Britain, which were 50 to 70 per cent more infectious than earlier strains according to initial estimates.
Switzerland has cancelled World Cup downhill ski races like the Lauberhorn classic planned for Saturday while continuing to allow ski resorts to remain open, including in Wengen, the Lauberhorn's host village, an approach indicative of the nation's wariness of levying harsh economic restrictions even as infections rise.
The federal department of public health reported 3,001 new cases and 58 deaths in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein on Wednesday. Some 490,000 cases have been reported and 7,851 people have died since the pandemic broke out in February 2020.
The country, which has already paid out billions in loans and aid to keep its economy afloat, also relaxed rules that allow companies to receive state support due to pandemic-related disruptions, like reducing the burden of proof they need to show before getting money.