Government plans further easing of Covid measures but with caveats
The government has begun consultations on the second phase of reopening, which includes outdoor dining, despite the “precarious” coronavirus situation. A final decision will be made on March 19.
At its meeting Friday, the Federal Council (government) decided to begin consultations on a second phase of reopening, as announced last month.
This would include – if the epidemiological situation allows – permitting events with spectators or audiences (with restrictions), as well as gatherings at home involving up to ten people, and sporting and cultural activities in groups of up to 15 from March 22. Restaurants and bars would be allowed to open outdoor seating areas under strict conditions.
Outside events like football matches and concerts with audiences of up to 150 people would also be allowed, while inside events at cinemas and theatres could draw up to 50 attendees, the government said.
Under the plans, face-to-face teaching at higher and continuing education institutions would once again be permitted on a limited basis.
The Federal Council will be guided in its decision by the four key indicator values that it has previously set out. However, values for three them are currently being exceeded, it warned.
“It is currently unclear how the epidemic will develop,” the government said in a statement. “Case numbers have now been rising for several days, as is the case in several neighbouring countries.”
On Friday, 1,333 new infections in Switzerland were announced, that’s a 10% increase on the seven-day daily average. “There are signs that this could be the start of a third wave,” said the government.
This potential reversal of fortunes could put a dampener on the planned easing of restrictions. "The timing is not optimal for steps towards reopening," admitted Swiss health minister Alain Berset at a press conference in Bern on Friday.
The Federal Council has therefore not yet determined when and in what form a third phase of opening can take place. A decision on the next steps will come on March 19 after its meeting, ministers stressed.
The government also confirmed that it would assume the costs of all rapid tests, including those of all asymptomatic cases. Last week it unveiled a CHF1 billion ($1.08 billion) plan to offer free coronavirus tests for its entire population.
In reaction, the Conference of Cantonal Health Directors said that it favoured a cautious approach, based on previous experience. An extensive or complete lifting of coronavirus measures is too risky at present, a spokesman said.
But Gastrosuisse, which represents the economically-hit catering sector, was disappointed. “This too hesitant approach continues to worsen the situation faced by the hotel-restaurant sector. We cannot understand why the government refuses to lift the sector lockdown with immediate effect, also for the inside spaces,” it said.
The first phase of re-opening after the latest shutdown started at the beginning of the month and included shops, museums, and libraries as well as the resumption of sporting and cultural activities for youngsters. Schools and many ski lifts are open, but restaurants and cultural venues are currently closed.
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