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Swiss still far from coronavirus peak as deaths, cases rise: officials

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s government said it was still far too early to relax measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, as the number of deaths and infections from the pandemic continued to swell.

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The death toll has risen to 432, the country's public health agency said here on Thursday, from 378 people on Wednesday. Positive tests increased to 18,267 from 17,139.

Daniel Koch, head of the Federal Office of Public Health’s communicable diseases division, said the number of new cases was increasing by around a thousand cases per day.

“That means that the increase is no longer as steep, but still every day a significant number of people have been infected,” he told a news conference in Bern.

“We are certainty not at the point where we have reached the peak of the epidemic,” he said, adding it was too early to predict when the nation could begin the slow return to normality.

Relaxing emergency measures would definitely be premature, Koch added, advising the population to keep their distance from one another, stay at home and maintain hygiene methods employed to reduce infections.

Switzerland has closed schools, shuttered many businesses and banned gatherings of more than five people as it fights the outbreak, while launching an initial 42 billion Swiss franc ($43.26 billion) aid package for the economy.

Government officials urged the public to avoid the roads, including Switzerland’s winding mountain passes, to reduce potential accidents which would divert critical emergency services resources away from coronavirus cases.

Stefan Blaettler, who heads the umbrella group for cantonal police forces, urged people not to go on holiday or camping -- campsites are closed anyway, he said -- and to avoid daredevil maneuvers on motorcycles.

“In such instances, you have to rely on people’s common sense,” Blaettler said.

The government also unveiled a scientific task-force to combine the know-how of experts, including to help advise the government as it begins preparations for an eventual transition away from restrictions.

Among the projects is a mobile phone application which will collect information on whether people are still gathering in large groups.

($1 = 0.9709 Swiss francs)

Editing by Michael Shields

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