Switzerland’s government outlined a multiphase plan to pull out of the country’s coronavirus shutdown, joining other European countries in easing restrictions as the pandemic shows signs of abating across the continent.
“The transition is starting,” Interior Minister Alain Berset said. “It will be pretty slow, progressive, and incremental.”
The Federal Council conditionally authorized businesses including hairdressers, garden centers, and physiotherapists to return to work on April 27. Hospitals can resume non-emergency medical procedures and outpatient practices at that time.
Shops and elementary schools will reopen on May 11 if the health situation allows. Other educational facilities, museums, zoos, and libraries may be allowed to restart on June 8.
Businesses will need to have a convincing protection plan for their employees and customers before they can restart, President Simonetta Sommaruga said. The council said it may require workers in some industries to wear face masks.
“We want to imperatively avoid a rebound in the epidemic,” Sommaruga said. The government maintained its rules on social distancing and hygiene, which include a ban on gatherings of more than five people.
The COVID-19 outbreak has killed 1,017 people in Switzerland, with 26,732 positive tests reported as of Thursday, an increase of 396 from Wednesday. That’s well down from 1,300 to 1,500 new cases daily at the peak, Berset said.
The World Health Organization has cautioned that rolling back restrictions too quickly could unleash a second wave of mass infections and deaths.
Baby steps back to normal
Other European countries are also experimenting with a gradual reopening as infection rates slow. Italy, Spain, and Austria have allowed partial returns to work, while Germany is set to follow next week. Denmark reopened daycare centers and elementary schools on Wednesday.
Having put up billions to shore up their economies, many governments are under financial pressure to lift the restrictions as soon as possible. Even if Switzerland recovers quickly, output may shrink more than seven percent this year, the government says.
“We want to act as fast as possible but as slowly as necessary,” Berset said. The council has not yet decided when big moneymaking events like concerts or soccer matches can restart.
The Swiss government has already launched a CHF 62 billion aid package, consisting mostly of guarantees on bank loans for small businesses and compensation for companies that keep workers on the payroll.
EU officials are urging governments to coordinate the economic reboot, and Berset said Switzerland will keep an eye on the situation beyond its borders. While the country isn’t an EU member, it belongs both to the single market and the border-free zone, and EU-Swiss supply chains are deeply integrated.
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Why you can’t trust coronavirus counts
At least 613 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Switzerland, but that number isn’t a reliable measure of the outbreak. The Swiss government is abandoning efforts to keep a precise count of coronavirus cases to focus instead on easing the burden on the healthcare system and protecting the most vulnerable—the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. “The government has decided that they will only test people who are at risk, who have strong symptoms,” said Michael Hengartner, president of the ETH Board. “Young people, who might have weak symptoms, will simply be asked to stay at home to minimize contagion.” The Cantonal Hospital of Lucerne has received a recommendation from the government to limit testing to the most vulnerable or severe cases, said spokesman Markus von Rotz. “Only patients who are hospitalized and health care staff will be tested for coronavirus,” said Claude Kaufmann, a spokesman for Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, which operates 17 hospitals. “Patients with fever and cough must stay at home so that they do not infect anyone.” The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health confirmed that the cases could be far higher than reported and that “people at especially high risk are tested as a priority.“ No test, no infection This raises the question of whether the count reflects the true scale of the outbreak. Many people have been keeping tabs on the daily tally from the federal health office, relying on it to provide a measure of the severity of the situation in Switzerland. The country reported its third coronavirus death Tuesday as the outbreak worsens in neighboring Italy, which has logged over 9,000 infections and 460 deaths. It also marks a change in strategy from the early days of the outbreak, when the government ramped up testing following the first confirmed case on Feb. 25. Back then, even mild cases were being counted and traced in the effort to contain the crisis. The Swiss Federal Council said Friday that tracing the infection would continue “as long as possible.” At the same time, it indicated that protecting people by minimizing contact—at work or social events—was now the bigger priority. Large events have been banned across the country but, unlike in Italy, no blanket travel restrictions have been imposed. And the Swiss border remains open to commuters from Italy. “With the infection rate that this virus has, it will basically cross across the human population,” Hengartner said. “It will become a pandemic. And the challenge for governments is to keep the infection rate low enough that we can always manage the patients that need to get hospitalized.”
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COVID-19 may tip world into financial crisis, UN warns
The world is vulnerable to a financial crisis if the coronavirus epidemic drags on because it is already so deep in debt, the United Nation’s trade body warned in a report on Monday. An enduring health emergency will likely trigger margin calls, tighten borrowing conditions, and increase the risk of a stampede to sell assets not hit in the first round of market turmoil, the UN Conference on Trade and Development said. “This raises the prospect of a credit crunch in a period of high indebtedness,” despite very low interest rates, the report says. Hopes of a recovery will hinge on sustained and coordinated liquidity injections by central banks, more active fiscal policies, and renewed efforts to bolster trade. “Central banks should do whatever it takes in the face of the COVID-19, including directing credit for production and employment,” UNCTAD said. The world has been on a borrowing binge since the 2008 meltdown, when central banks pumped vast sums into cash-strapped markets and banks to shore up the system. At the start of 2020, total debt stocks exceeded more than $250 trillion, about three times global gross domestic product, according to the Institute of International Finance. Developing countries most at risk Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to a credit crunch, as many are already struggling with the highest debt levels on record. “For many developing countries that are facing debt distress already, I think we’re going to have to look at more radical solutions,” Richard Kozul-Wright, who oversees globalization and development strategies at UNCTAD, said in an interview Monday with CNNMoney’s Kasmira Jefford. “The need for a moratorium on debt servicing in some countries will also be necessary.” Economists have warned for years that such massive debt is a risk for the global economy. Record-low interest rates in countries around the globe have made it easier and cheaper for corporates, individuals, and governments to borrow. Last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve, which cut rates three times last year, slashed them by half a percentage point in response to the economic threat from COVID-19. The European Central Bank meets this week, and markets are pricing in a much smaller cut, given that rates are already in negative territory. There is also speculation that the ECB is preparing measures to provide liquidity to businesses hit by the outbreak.
More women in Swiss boardrooms
The percentage of women on the executive boards of Switzerland’s 100 largest employers has edged up to reach 10% for the first time, according to executive search firm Schilling Partners. When taking into consideration a broader boardroom study by Deloitte, that figure rises above the global average to just under 19%.
Coronavirus is good for the fertility business
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