Switzerland will start gradually relaxing from April 27 the drastic restrictions it brought in last month to tackle the spread of the new coronavirus, the government said on Thursday.
Hospitals will be allowed to perform all procedures, even elective surgeries, while hair salons, massage parlours and cosmetic studies will be allowed to reopen.
This will be followed by compulsory schools, shops and markets from May 11, it added.
In a third stage it will reopen secondary schools, vocational schools and universities from June 8. The government also foresees allowing an existing ban of meetings of more than five people to be relaxed, although the details of this stage will be announced at the end of May.
“The spread of the coronavirus was slowed, and our hospitals are not stretched to the limit,” Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference.
“We want to make sure there isn’t a resurgence in infections, and we don’t want to endanger the gains we’ve made so far. That’s why we ask people to stick to the social distancing and hygiene measures we’ve put in place.”
Switzerland’s death toll from the COVID-19 respiratory disease the virus causes has risen past 1,000, with nearly 27,000 people testing positive.
The rate of infections has slowed in recent days, while the government has come under increasing pressure to reopen businesses which have struggled during the shutdown.
“The transition from one stage to the next will take place when there has been no significant increase in COVID-19 cases,” the government said.
“Sufficient time must elapse between each stage to allow the effects of the relaxation to be observed. The criteria are the number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths, and hospital occupancy rates.”
Switzerland has shuttered schools, non-essential shops and many businesses for a month as it sought to halt the epidemic’s spread.
It has also extended billions in financial assistance to businesses and eased bankruptcy rules, to prevent companies from going under. Still, the country’s economy could shrink by as much as 10% this year, experts have said.
Europe should move with extreme caution when considering easing lockdowns, the World Health Organization’s regional director said on Thursday.
Neighbouring Austria has already announced a partial exit from its own lockdown, while Germany has announced its own small steps out of its lockdown.