March 9, 2020 / 12:51 PM / 25 days ago

Italy's neighbours take steps to curb spread of coronavirus

ZURICH, March 9 (Reuters) - Switzerland has announced checks of Italian commuters’ Swiss work permits and Austria has said it plans spot health checks of people crossing its southern border to try to contain the coronavirus.

Italy, which has been hit worse by the virus than any other European country, has imposed a virtual lockdown on the northern region of Lombardy and parts of neighbouring Veneto.

The Swiss government said on Sunday Italians who work in Switzerland will have to show papers proving they have a job in the Alpine country.

But Italians will not be prevented from working in Switzerland, a decision that is important for the economy of the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino, where more than 70,000 Italian cross-border commuters hold work permits.

“This should ensure the continued functioning of the Ticino health system,” the Swiss government said.

Bern has told Swiss residents not to go to affected regions in northern Italy but the border remains open for goods traffic and trains have been operating largely on schedule across the Swiss-Italian border.

Under Austria’s new measures, two mobile health check teams will from Tuesday check travellers in cars and trains in the Brenner pass region and two other crossing points.

“Our goal remains to contain the coronavirus as long as and well as possible to prevent more people falling ill and thus buy time until there is an effective therapy against the virus,” the governor of Tyrol province, Guenther Platter, said.

Switzerland has reported 312 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and two deaths. Austria has reported 112 confirmed cases.

Austria’s state rail operator, OeBB, said staff now get off at the border with Italy instead of going to the final destination across the border, and the same applies to Italian trains heading north.

There are about 20 daily OeBB trains between Austria and Italy. Only the two night trains to Venice and Milan have been cancelled so far and rail cargo has not been affected, it said. (Reporting by Michael Shields and John Miller in Zurich and Kirsti Knolle in Vienna, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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