Restaurants and culture institutions can re-open under strict conditions and schools can resume classes as part of a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions from May 11.
The loosening of regulations announced on Wednesday by the government follow an eight-week lockdown to stem the Covid-19 virus from spreading in the country.
Restaurants are only allowed to serve tables with a maximum of four seated guests and the tables have to be at least two metres apart.
However, a ban on public and private gatherings of more than five people remains in place and the government urged people to continue to heed hygiene standards, notably social distancing and handwashing.
Major events involving more than 1,000 people – notably cultural festivals – will not be allowed until at least the end of August.
“Our decision is based on a pragmatic, step-by-step approach,” President Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference on Wednesday. “It is another step in our strategy, which seeks to avoid giving in to extreme demands,” she added.
The government has come under pressure, notably from certain industry sectors and right-wing and centre-right political parties, to speed up the easing of measures.
Sommaruga said Switzerland had to learn to cope with the virus. “It will take time before a vaccine or medication is available,” she said.
Back to school
Echoing her statement, Interior Minister Alain Berset warned the population against complacency. He said every further easing depended on the development of the health situation, including the number of new infections and hospitalisations over the next weeks.
Berset admitted it was difficult for the government to regulate the precise details of the re-opening policy. He also said the cantons would be given back their wide-ranging autonomy on education affairs.
As part of the strategy, classes for children up to the age of 16 will resume in mid-May, including music schools. High schools can offer classes for small groups of students.
Museums, libraries and archives can also re-open, while public transport will begin regular services, provided they put in place a safety concept which may include a recommendation for passengers to wear masks.
It was already announced that non-essential shops will re-open on May 11.
The cantonal health authorities also plan to resume the contact-tracing of Covid-19 infections as of mid-May.
“This is a new dawn for the Swiss economy,” said Economics Minister Guy Parmelin. “But there are still plenty of dark clouds on the horizon.”
He referred to the high number of requests for short-time working compensation, rising unemployment and a looming recession.
“The government is counting on the sense of responsibility of companies and individuals with its strategy of a gradual resumption of business activities under safety concepts,” he said.
On Monday, a first phase of the exit strategy came into effect, allowing hairdressers, physiotherapists, dentists, garden centres and florists to resume business.
At the end of May, the government will decide whether to ease a ban on gatherings of more than five people, the re-opening of universities and other institutes of higher education, as well as sports competitions with spectators, religious services and tourist transport facilities in the mountains.