SWITZERLAND TO OUTLINE NEXT STAGES IN LOCKDOWN EXIT

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The Swiss government is set to announce the next stages of its plan to slowly unwind its coronavirus restrictions and rekindle its beleaguered economy.

The Federal Council meets Wednesday to map out a lockdown exit strategy for everything from sports and cultural activities to tourism, restaurants, and big events such as conferences. Talks on when to reopen Swiss borders and ease bans on gatherings of more than five people are also on the agenda.

“What awaits us next week is an extremely important menu to face the next stages,” Interior Minister Alain Berset said last Wednesday.

Swiss officials are also expected to announce an aid package worth about CHF 1.5 billion for Lufthansa unit Swiss and CHF 500 million for other companies in the industry, Tages-Anzeiger reported on Tuesday. The package, promised several weeks ago, is said to consist mainly of state guarantees for bank loans.

The government has already scheduled three phases of the transition to normality, or at least a semblance of it. The first began this week with the reopening of a few businesses, including hairdressers, garden centers, and hardware stores.

If the infection remains under control, children can go back to school and more shops will reopen on May 11. Institutions of higher education, museums, zoos, and libraries will have to wait until June 8.

What happens next is the big question. Officials are weighing risk factors, such as the increase in social contact and the ability of businesses to protect people, against the economic benefits.

After six weeks in limbo, Switzerland is headed for its deepest downturn since 1975 in the aftermath of the oil price shock, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, or SECO. It is forecasting a slump of 6.7 percent for the year, followed by a gradual rebound in 2021.

The jobless rate shot up in April even as the government began helping companies cover the costs of keeping workers on their payrolls to avoid mass layoffs. Unemployment will probably reach 3.4 percent by the end of April, up from 2.9 percent in March, said Boris Zürcher, head of SECO’s labor department.

Governments across the globe are rolling out rescue packages for their ailing airlines as the travel slump drags on. The International Air Transport Association has warned that the pandemic could bankrupt half the world’s airlines.

Lufthansa is pressing Angela Merkel’s coalition for a multibillion-euro bailout that doesn’t involve ceding control to the German government. European rival Air France-KLM last week received pledges of 11 billion euros in loans and guarantees from the French and Dutch governments.

Eric Jakob of SECO warned on Monday that residents of Switzerland shouldn’t plan to travel internationally before 2021. Jakob said that even if air travel starts up again, it would remain uncertain for a long time.

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