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.