Monday, 30th October 2017

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Swiss city revives an old tradition

Switzerland's death toll from the novel virus has risen to nearly 500

By Reuters in Lausanne
  • Published 5.04.20, 1:00 AM
  • Updated 5.04.20, 3:59 PM
  • a min read
Medical workers treat a patient with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital (CHUV) during the state of emergency of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Lausanne, Switzerland (AP photo)

In Lausanne, a Swiss city on the shores of lake Geneva, the coronavirus outbreak has revived a tradition of centuries past: The cathedral watchman climbs the 153 stone steps to his tower at night, puts on a black hat, lights a lantern and rings the “La Clemence” bell to stir residents' solidarity and courage.

It’s a practice dating back to the Middle Ages, when watchmen at Lausanne Cathedral kept a vigil over the city and rang the bell if they spotted a fire.

“We can compare this pandemic to a worldwide fire that has spread at lightning speed on all continents,” Renato Hausler, one of the last cathedral watchmen in Europe, told Reuters.

“It was also considered an encouragement, more than a distress signal, everybody was hearing it and it brought unity with residents fighting the fire.”

Since last week Hausler has been ringing “La Clemence”, the 16th-century bell, nearly every night, and calling out the hours from 10pm to 2am.

Switzerland's death toll from the novel virus has risen to nearly 500 and the total confirmed infections approach 20,000.

Hausler wants to “keep people awake with regards to what is happening, to stay focused”.

Shorter hours

A quarter of Switzerland’s workers have been put on shorter hours as companies seek to limit the financial damage of the coronavirus epidemic, the government said on Saturday, with both deaths and confirmed infections still rising.

The national death toll from the outbreak has reached 540, up from 484 on Friday, while the number of people testing positive for infections also increased to 20,278 from 19,303, the health ministry said.

While the country is testing more and more people, the health ministry said the main reason for seeing more confirmed cases is that infections continue to rise.

Switzerland has approved a total economic aid package exceeding 60 billion Swiss francs ($61.37 billion) to help soften the epidemic's impact. Some 1.3 million workers, from a population of 8.6 million people, are on short-time work hours, a programme normally meant to help firms temper fluctuating demand but which has been deployed now with unprecedented speed.

“The economy will not exit this crisis unscathed,” said Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, economy ministry state secretary. “The government is creating confidence and opportunity.” Reuters