March 17, 2020 / 12:03 PM / 11 days ago

Swiss border checks snarl healthcare workers from France

BARDONNEX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Thousands of French workers were stuck in traffic on Tuesday as Switzerland tightened border controls under new emergency measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Vehicles queue at the Bardonnex Customs control at the Swiss-French border during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19,) in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, France March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

Only Swiss citizens, residents and people travelling for business can enter Switzerland under the new regime, which also affects Germany, France and Austria. The Swiss had already tightened monitoring of cross-border traffic from Italy.

The tougher steps hit nurse Adeline Dumerie, who said it took her three and a half hours to get through the border, a trip that usually takes 45 minutes.

“Our patients are waiting for us, our colleagues are also waiting for us to take our shift,” she told Reuters.

“These are human beings, they are in their beds, they are waiting for blood tests, they are waiting for their blood pressure tests, they are waiting for us to feed them, they are waiting.”

Another French nurse who gave her name as Mireille said she was going to be two hours late for her hospital job.

“I know other people have imperatives, but this is a little bit complicated,” she said.

Sixty percent of nurses in Geneva are from France, reflecting Switzerland’s dependence on foreign workers to keep its health care system running.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, train stations, banks, post offices, public offices, social services, hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices remain open. Goods and people in transit can also still enter.

More than 2,330 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Switzerland, and at least 14 people have died.

Swiss hospitals could collapse if the coronavirus keeps spreading rapidly, a top health official warned, urging his compatriots to respect the government’s emergency measures to curb the epidemic.

Writing by Michael Shields, editing by Ed Osmond

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