Switzerland will start easing out of its Covid-19 lockdown from March 1, the government said on Wednesday, confirming preliminary plans to open shops, museums and libraries and allow outdoor gatherings of up to 15 people.
As neighbouring countries take a harder line, the cabinet has tried to walk a political tightrope between health experts supporting stricter curbs and struggling businesses calling for reopening the economy as numbers of infections fall.
The next stage of reopening is planned for March 22 if the course of the pandemic allows. The government is due to decide what steps to take next on March 19.
"With this cautious reopening, the (cabinet) is aiming to achieve a gradual normalisation of social and economic life, even though the epidemiological situation remains precarious because new, more infectious variants of the virus are circulating," the government said.
The federal government had said last week it would start easing up if cantons agreed under the decentralised Swiss system of governing.
Switzerland had ordered companies to instruct employees to work from home where possible and limited gatherings to five people. Schools and many ski lifts remain open, but restaurants and cultural venues are closed.
Health authorities have reported https://www.Covid19.admin.ch/en/overview?ovTime=total more than 552,000 cases and more than 9,200 deaths in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein since the pandemic broke out in February 2020.
The government, conscious of the impact on the restrictions on young people, said it would allow sports and cultural activities for people aged up to 20.
Competitions and concerts for young people would be permitted again, albeit without spectators, the government said.