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Too soon to ease anti-virus curbs, Swiss say as new cases decelerate

World

ZURICH (Reuters) – It is too early to consider easing measures that restrict the spread of the new coronavirus, Switzerland’s health minister said on Monday, even as neighbouring Austria sketched out plans to start loosening a national lockdown.

The Swiss death toll rose on Monday to 584 from 559 people on Sunday, while the number of positive tests increased to 21,652 from 21,100 on Sunday, a less steep rise than of late.

“Of course we look at the others but we decide for ourselves,” Health Minister Alain Berset told a news briefing after visiting health care officials in the southwestern canton of Valais.

He said Switzerland would use epidemiological data to decide when it might start easing up on measures — including closing schools, bars and restaurants and banning gatherings of more than five people — set to run until April 19.

Hospital stays and infections were still rising in Switzerland, which had not yet seen peak cases of respiratory disease COVID-19 caused by the new virus, Berset said.

“You cannot forget that even when we are at the peak it does not mean it is over. The peak is only the moment you hope it goes down. When it is really going down then you can imagine measures to loosen up,” he said, urging people to stay home.

“Easter and the whole month of April will be somewhat different this year.”

The cabinet is set to meet twice before April 19 so has time to gauge the situation before adopting any measures as in Austria, which has fewer COVID-19 infections, Berset said.

Austria’s government plans to start reopening shops from next week, saying the country was turning a corner though it widened a requirement to wear face masks.

Reporting by John Revill and Michael Shields