ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland will hold off from new national restrictions to curb coronavirus infections, the government said on Wednesday, as it appealed to common sense and local measures to stem the rising tide of cases it described as "critical."
Bern decided to go in a different direction to neighbouring Austria, which has reintroduced a lockdown this week, ahead of a Swiss vote to decide the fate of the national government's pandemic response powers.
"In light of the relatively low occupation of COVID-19 patients in (hospitals') intensive care units and strong regional differences, the moment has not yet come in the Federal Council's opinion to tighten measures throughout Switzerland," the government said in a statement.
"However, the Federal Council considers the situation critical. It is likely to worsen further in coming weeks."
Restrictions to public life to curb coronavirus infections have sparked opposition in Switzerland, triggering a binding referendum under Switzerland's system of direct democracy.
Swiss voters are set to decide on Sunday whether to back the government's authority to introduce exceptional measures, such as certificates the government currently requires to enter bars and restaurants and attend certain events.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland has been rising since early October. On Wednesday, 8,585 new cases were reported, 50% higher than the level early last week.
Meanwhile, the country's voluntary vaccination campaign has stalled, with just over 65% of the population fully vaccinated. Its vaccination rate remains one of the lowest in Europe, despite a nationwide campaign earlier this month to increase the number of people who have had the jab.
Germany and Austria have also faced low vaccination rates and spiking cases, prompting Austria on Monday to become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a lockdown since vaccines were rolled out.
Switzerland is so far recommending people to work from home and has made mask-wearing compulsory in many public indoor places.
There have also been limits of 30 people for indoor private gatherings, and 50 people for outside events, while access to most indoor events, restaurants and bars is restricted to people with a COVID certificate.
(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and John Revill)