AUSTRIA AND SWITZERLAND PLOT SEPARATE PATHS ON CORONAVIRUS

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Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset held out little hope Monday that the government would follow Austria’s lead in relaxing some coronavirus containment measures next week.

Asked about the Austrian plan, he said the Federal Council would only consider the situation specific to Switzerland, noting that Austria has fewer confirmed cases of infections. Berset spoke after visiting health care officials in the southern canton of Valais.

The council declared a state of emergency on March 16, closing shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities until April 19.

Berset has said restrictions on social contact won’t end when infections peak. “It is only when the number of infected people and hospital admissions clearly decreases that we can consider relaxing the rules,” he told SonntagsZeitung.

Hope drives markets higher 

Stock markets in the U.S. and Europe rallied Monday on data suggesting a slowdown in coronavirus infections in multiple countries. They include Italy and Spain, which are also recording fewer daily deaths than they have in over a week.

On Monday, Austria Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his government could start loosening some lockdown measures next week to allow small shops, hardware stores, and garden centers to resume business.

Assuming there’s no relapse in the coronavirus count, larger shops will reopen next month, followed by hotels, restaurants, and other services from mid-May, he said at a news conference.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged impatient citizens to put aside thoughts of ending coronavirus-related restrictions and focus on survival as a bloc. EU countries have sparred over border closures, medical supply shipments, and fiscal stimulus during the outbreak. Unlike Austria, Germany will not ease any restrictions in mid-April, she has said.

Austria, with 8.8 million people, had reported 12,058 confirmed infections and 204 deaths as of Monday. The government says the daily rate of new infections has fallen significantly in recent days.

That compares with 21,652 positive tests and 584 deaths in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, which have a combined population of about 8.6 million.

Exit strategy for the strong 

Also Monday, the Swiss Trade Association proposed eventually limiting the containment measures to groups most at risk so that the country could get back to work. It also urged the introduction of app-based monitoring to identify chains of infection.

Scientists from various European countries, including Switzerland, have been working on a smartphone app to help trace people who have come into contact with those infected with coronavirus. The PEPP-PT includes safeguards on data privacy and use would be voluntary and anonymous.

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