SWITZERLAND TO RELAX CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS THIS MONTH

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Switzerland’s government said it would begin easing its coronavirus containment measures at the end of the month and is working on a plan for a stepwise return to normal.

Interior Minister Alain Berset said the aim is to map out the timing and order of events for a transition that would likely take weeks. The plan will be carried out in coordination with other countries and will take account of economic needs as well as the importance of keeping the virus in check.

Switzerland declared a state of emergency on March 16, closing shops, restaurants, bars, and entertainment and leisure facilities until April 19. The lockdown will be extended a week until April 26, the government said.

“We are on the right path, but we haven’t reached the goal yet,” said President Simonetta Sommaruga.

Other European governments also are starting to think about how to reopen factories, offices, and schools while minimizing the chance of further outbreaks. Austria on Monday said it would gradually begin to reopen shops after Easter, becoming the first country in Europe to do so.

Pressure is building on governments to explain their plans because of the mounting economic costs of measures designed to contain the coronavirus. Economics Minister Guy Parmelin said the Swiss economy has taken an enormous hit with production collapsing about 25 percent.

“We must seriously envision a profound crisis that lasts a long time,” he said. “The state can’t be engaged everywhere.”

The government said it is working on an aid package for the devastated airline industry, which employs more than 200,000 in Switzerland.

It also expanded some unemployment benefits for workers. About 30 percent of the labor force, or about 1.5 million people, are already receiving wage subsidies known as short-time work.

Switzerland’s jobless rate rose to 3 percent in March and an increase of 7 percent in the coming months was not impossible, Parmelin said.

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