The Swiss authorities have agreed on the staggered easing of restrictions announced earlier this month. Shops, zoos and outdoor recreational facilities will reopen, but restaurants will remain closed until at least March 22. Further discussions on the plan will take place on March 12.This content was published on February 24, 2021 - 15:24
Following consultations with the 26 cantons, the government largely confirmed plans announced on February 17 to ease the partial lockdown that has been in place since January 18. Indoor and outdoor dining has not been permitted since mid-December.
As planned, stores, museums, libraries, and zoos will be able to reopen on March 1. Outdoor gatherings of 15 people will also be allowed – an increase from the current 5-person limit.
Recreational facilities that take place outdoors such as tennis and ice skating will be allowed as long as they comply with hygiene restrictions. The government is also allowing youth up to the age of 20 to participate in cultural and sporting activities. Sports competitions and concerts will be permitted for youth but without spectators or an audience.
"We are taking a considerable - but calculated risk," Interior Minister Alain Berset told a news conference on Wednesday.
However, the government rejected calls by the restaurant sector and right-wing political parties for a speedy reopening of bars and restaurants.
Economics Minister Guy Parmelin reiterated that the “cautious and gradual easing of restrictions” is intended to give more space to economic and social life, despite the fact that the “epidemiological situation remains precarious due to the new, more contagious variants of the virus”.
The government has been under pressure to allow restaurants to reopen before the originally proposed date of April 1.
In an apparent compromise, this date has been moved up to March 22 assuming the epidemiological situation permits.
But the government didn't allow outdoor dining as some cantons had requested. The situation will be assessed again ten days before this and further decisions will be made on March 19. It will also include discussions on any easing to the mandatory teleworking and other restrictions in place.
"We understand very well that not everyone is satisfied with the gradual opening," said Parmelin, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year. He said that the coronavirus cases are rising and "we can't ignore the situation".
Berset added that when the situation permits, we can open faster. "The difficulty from the beginning is that we don’t know how the situation is going to develop." He recalled the situation last autumn, warning that "we don't want to lose control of the situation".
Switzerland recorded 1,343 new coronavirus infections, 16 deaths and 43 hospitalisations on Wednesday. The total number of people who have died of Covid-19 reached 9,256 since the first case reported in February 2020. Over 23,300 people have been hospitalised over the year.
The Federal Office of Public Health has set targets for additional opening including a positivity rate below 5%, fewer than 250 beds in intensive care units occupied by Covid-19 patients, and an average reproduction rate below 1 for the previous week.