By Urs Flueeler…..
The government plans to re-open shops, museums and sports facilities in Switzerland from March 1 as part of its exit strategy for the Covid-19 restrictions.
A ban on outside gatherings of more than five people will also be eased, but the number will remain limited to 15.
Libraries and exterior areas of zoos and botanical gardens will also be made accessible to the public again, following a six-week lockdown introduced in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.
However, restaurants will remain closed and a work-from-home policy will be maintained.
The plans will be submitted to the country’s 26 cantons before the government takes a final decision next week.
“We’re taking a risk, but we think that’s acceptable as long as everybody plays along and continues to respect the hygiene rules,” Interior Minister Alain Berset told a news conference on Wednesday.
The government plan foresees several stages for its exit strategy based on key factors, including infections, hospital admissions and the so-called reproduction number.
Other factors are the spread of new strains of coronavirus and progress on the country’s vaccination programme, which has been delayed due to a shortage of supplies.
The government will consider the situation regularly and decide on a further easing every four weeks.
The authorities have been under intense pressure from the business community to ease restrictions, while health experts warned not to repeat the mistakes of last year when restrictions were suspended too early, as critics argued.
Economics Minister Guy Parmelin was cautiously positive about the current situation.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there is still a long way to go,” he said.
Parmelin, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, notably paid tribute to the younger generation for their special efforts to try to live with the personal restrictions.
He also strongly rejected attacks against individual cabinet ministers, saying the seven-member Swiss government took collective decisions.
In recent weeks the right-wing Swiss People’s Party has mounted an outright offensive against Berset, a member of the left-wing Social Democratic Party.
The government also proposes an additional CH10 billion ($11.2 billion) to fund emergency financial aid for companies forced to close temporarily owing to government restrictions.
Payments for employees claiming short-time compensation and unemployment benefits are to be extended until May, said Finance Minister Ueli Maurer.
Parliament and the cantonal authorities still have to discuss and approve the plans in March.