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Switzerland virus deaths top 500 as cases soar past 20,000

The small Alpine country of some 8.5 million people is thus one of the worst-hit compared to population size, now counting 236 registered infections per 100,000 people.

A picture taken on 22 March 2020 in Biere, western Switzerland shows Swiss soldiers during a formation before being deployed to support public hospitals as part of a historic mobilisation for the Swiss Army since the Second World War, against the spread of the COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Picture: AFP.

GENEVA - Switzerland on Saturday saw the number of cases of the new coronavirus in the country pass 20,000, as its death toll in the pandemic swelled past 500.

The health ministry said 20,201 people in Switzerland had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday morning - nearly 1,000 more than a day earlier.

The small Alpine country of some 8.5 million people is thus one of the worst-hit compared to population size, now counting 236 registered infections per 100,000 people.

At the same time, an additional 76 people died over the past 24 hours, bringing Switzerland's death toll in the pandemic to 540, the health ministry said.

"We have not yet reached the peak," health ministry official Daniel Koch told reporters.

Worldwide, well over 1.1 million cases have been registered across 188 countries, while close to 60,000 people have died, according to a tally compiled by AFP Saturday from official sources.

The high incidence in Switzerland could in part be linked to the fact that it is among the countries that have administered most tests per capita.

Since the first case surfaced in the country on 24 February, more than 150,000 tests have been administered with around 15 percent coming up positive.

Drive-in testing stations have been set up in several places, including in the capital Bern, to help simplify safe testing for COVID-19.

In the past 24 hours, the country has conducted nearly 7,000 tests, including 975 that were positive, the health ministry said.

Switzerland's southern canton of Ticino, which borders hard-hit Italy, has registered most cases, followed by Geneva.

As in other countries, men seemed to suffer more from the virus. Slightly more women had tested positive for the virus, but men accounted for 64 percent of the deaths, the ministry found.

Switzerland has unblocked some $60 billion to buffer the harsh blow to its economy from the pandemic and the measures taken to halt the spread of the virus.

The economic affairs ministry said Saturday some 1.3 million people, or a quarter of the country's workforce, have applied for temporary unemployment benefits since the start of the crisis.

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