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Geneva limits gatherings to five in virus shutdown

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Geneva (AFP)

The Swiss region of Geneva declared a "state of necessity" on Monday due to the coronavirus global pandemic, shutting bars and restaurants and limiting gatherings to just five people.

Geneva city, home to many international institutions including the United Nations' headquarters in Europe and the World Health Organization, banned non-work gatherings of more than five people both indoors or outdoors.

"The council took strong restrictive measures this morning to make haste. Geneva will be in semi-containment," canton council president Antonio Hodgers told a press conference, according to the ATS national news agency.

Shops, restaurants and bars were to close on Monday at 6:00pm (1700 GMT) until March 29.

Cinemas, theatres, sports centres and all other entertainment outlets will be shut.

Hotels, food shops, pharmacies, fuel stations and small kiosks will remain open along with food markets.

Postal and banking services can remain open, as well as outlets offering take-away or delivery food, though hairdressers, barbers and prostitutes were among those told to shut down activities.

"Meetings of more than five people inside and outside are now prohibited," the cantonal authorities said in a statement.

Professional meetings can go ahead as long as state social distancing and hygiene guidelines can be respected.

- Bells and whistles -

Several Swiss cantons, including the southern Ticino region which borders northern Italy, have imposed stricter measures than the rest of the country and have ordered the closure of all restaurants, bars and shops, with the exception of food stores and pharmacies.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset on Sunday urged people not to "give in to fear" as Geneva residents applauded, whistled and rang bells from their balconies and windows to thank health workers on the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus.

Infections jumped on Sunday by nearly 1,000 cases in 24 hours to 2,200 and 14 deaths were recorded from the virus across the country.

On Friday, the Swiss government closed schools and banned public gatherings of more than 100 people, and the army said it was preparing to help overstretched hospitals.

The landlocked state has also reintroduced tight border controls with neighbouring countries and slapped strict limits on who can cross over from hard-hit Italy, where more than 1,800 people have died in the pandemic.

Switzerland's government announced Friday that it would make $10.5 billion available immediately to help companies and employees to make it through the crisis.

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