Switzerland on Friday doubled the size of its coronavirus emergency loan program to CHF 40 billion to head off a rash of insolvencies among small businesses strapped for cash.
The Federal Council asked parliament to approve CHF 10 billion of an additional CHF 20 billion in federal guarantees for bridge loans as a matter of urgency. Companies have taken out more than CHF 14 billion in state-backed bank loans in just over a week.
“Because of this considerable demand, the CHF 20 billion in federal guarantees is likely to be exceeded in the next few days,” the government said.
Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said some 400,000 small businesses are struggling with a cash crunch as a result of the pandemic. The vast majority are companies with fewer than 10 employees.
So far about 76,000 businesses have received credit under the program, part of Switzerland’s largest-ever economic aid package. Businesses can borrow up to CHF 20 million at low or zero interest and have five years to repay the debt.
The demand for liquidity has increased in the last two days, Maurer said.
Switzerland has closed schools and many businesses and banned gatherings of more than five people as it fights the outbreak. The death toll rose to 484 people from 432 people on Thursday, while the number of positive tests rose to 19,303.
“We haven’t reached the summit,” said Interior Minister Alain Berset at a news conference. Even when the numbers peak, there will be no sudden end to the crisis, he said, urging people to avoid unnecessary travel during the Easter holidays.
Swiss cantons are mobilizing more police ahead of the holidays to enforce the country’s coronavirus confinement measures.
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Start-ups struggle to survive coronavirus
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Will hotel industry be gutted by coronavirus?
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Why you can’t trust coronavirus counts
At least 613 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Switzerland, but that number isn’t a reliable measure of the outbreak. The Swiss government is abandoning efforts to keep a precise count of coronavirus cases to focus instead on easing the burden on the healthcare system and protecting the most vulnerable—the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. “The government has decided that they will only test people who are at risk, who have strong symptoms,” said Michael Hengartner, president of the ETH Board. “Young people, who might have weak symptoms, will simply be asked to stay at home to minimize contagion.” The Cantonal Hospital of Lucerne has received a recommendation from the government to limit testing to the most vulnerable or severe cases, said spokesman Markus von Rotz. “Only patients who are hospitalized and health care staff will be tested for coronavirus,” said Claude Kaufmann, a spokesman for Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, which operates 17 hospitals. “Patients with fever and cough must stay at home so that they do not infect anyone.” The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health confirmed that the cases could be far higher than reported and that “people at especially high risk are tested as a priority.“ No test, no infection This raises the question of whether the count reflects the true scale of the outbreak. Many people have been keeping tabs on the daily tally from the federal health office, relying on it to provide a measure of the severity of the situation in Switzerland. The country reported its third coronavirus death Tuesday as the outbreak worsens in neighboring Italy, which has logged over 9,000 infections and 460 deaths. It also marks a change in strategy from the early days of the outbreak, when the government ramped up testing following the first confirmed case on Feb. 25. Back then, even mild cases were being counted and traced in the effort to contain the crisis. The Swiss Federal Council said Friday that tracing the infection would continue “as long as possible.” At the same time, it indicated that protecting people by minimizing contact—at work or social events—was now the bigger priority. Large events have been banned across the country but, unlike in Italy, no blanket travel restrictions have been imposed. And the Swiss border remains open to commuters from Italy. “With the infection rate that this virus has, it will basically cross across the human population,” Hengartner said. “It will become a pandemic. And the challenge for governments is to keep the infection rate low enough that we can always manage the patients that need to get hospitalized.”
Coronavirus shuts down Italy but Swiss border remains open
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Swiss border open for business
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World is losing battle to contain coronavirus, says president of ETH Board
Countries including Switzerland are abandoning efforts to keep a precise count of coronavirus cases and are focusing instead on helping hospitals cope with patient overload, says Michael Hengartner, president of the ETH Board and chairman of the Executive Committee. With a pandemic inevitable, the challenge now is to “keep the infection rate low enough that we can always manage patients that need to get hospitalized.”
COVID-19 may tip world into financial crisis, UN warns
The world is vulnerable to a financial crisis if the coronavirus epidemic drags on because it is already so deep in debt, the United Nation’s trade body warned in a report on Monday. An enduring health emergency will likely trigger margin calls, tighten borrowing conditions, and increase the risk of a stampede to sell assets not hit in the first round of market turmoil, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said. “This raises the prospect of a credit crunch in a period of high indebtedness,” despite very low interest rates, the report says. Hopes of a recovery will hinge on sustained and coordinated liquidity injections by central banks, more active fiscal policies, and renewed efforts to bolster trade. “Central banks should do whatever it takes in the face of the COVID-19, including directing credit for production and employment,” UNCTAD said. The world has been on a borrowing binge since the 2008 meltdown, when central banks pumped vast sums into cash-strapped markets and banks to shore up the system. At the start of 2020, total debt stocks exceeded more than $250 trillion, about three times global gross domestic product, according to the Institute of International Finance. Developing countries most at risk Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to a credit crunch, as many are already struggling with the highest debt levels on record. “For many developing countries that are facing debt distress already, I think we’re going to have to look at more radical solutions,” Richard Kozul-Wright, who oversees globalization and development strategies at UNCTAD, said in an interview Monday with CNNMoney’s Kasmira Jefford. “The need for a moratorium on debt servicing in some countries will also be necessary.” Economists have warned for years that such massive debt is a risk for the global economy. Record-low interest rates in countries around the globe have made it easier and cheaper for corporates, individuals, and governments to borrow. Last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve, which cut rates three times last year, slashed them by half a percentage point in response to the economic threat from COVID-19. The European Central Bank meets this week, and markets are pricing in a much smaller cut, given that rates are already in negative territory. There is also speculation that the ECB is preparing measures to provide liquidity to businesses hit by the outbreak.
More women in Swiss boardrooms
The percentage of women on the executive boards of Switzerland’s 100 largest employers has edged up to reach 10% for the first time, according to executive search firm Schilling Partners. When taking into consideration a broader boardroom study by Deloitte, that figure rises above the global average to just under 19%.
Coronavirus is good for the fertility business
The U.N. estimates the economic burden of women’s diseases to be in the tens of millions. But according to Lea von Bidder, CEO of fertility tracking company Ava, only 4% of R&D investment in health care goes towards female-specific health needs. Von Bidder tells us about the femtech gender gap and shares why the coronavirus outbreak is a boon for the fertility business.