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Swiss to further relax COVID-19 restrictions from next week

·2-min read
Swiss flag on the Mont-Blanc bridge, in Geneva

(Fixes typo in 7th graf. No other changes.)

ZURICH (Reuters) -The Swiss government announced further easing of its COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday, allowing restaurants to reopen outdoor terraces from next week and sports events to take place with audiences.

The government said cinemas, theatres and concert venues will also be allowed to readmit guests from Monday, April 19, although visitors will have to wear masks and keep a safe distance apart.

Universities and adult education centres will be allowed to resume in-person classes at reduced capacity, it added.

The steps comes despite the government saying the infection situation remained fragile and had actually worsened in recent days.

"Despite rising case numbers we can carefully open up as we have another situation in terms of testing and vaccinations," Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters.

"Firstly, thanks to the weather, we can go outside more. Secondly a large part of the most vulnerable people are already vaccinated. We think taking the risk is justifiable."

The government wanted to find an orderly way out of the crisis, Berset said, with many people reaching their limits after 14 months of restrictions.

Switzerland's easing contrasts with neighbouring Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking temporary powers from parliament to enforce coronavirus lockdowns in areas with high infection rates to halt the advance of a third wave.

The numbers of cases have continued to steadily rise in Switzerland. On Wednesday the number of cases increased by 2,601, taking the total infections to 627,968. The death toll rose by 14 to 9,844.

On Wednesday the government said outdoor events would be allowed with up to 100 visitors, and up to 50 audience members would be allowed at indoor venues such as cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

Berset said the government would examine how this reopening progressed before announcing further easing.

"What we are trying to do is re-open in a prudent way, so as not to lose control and plan our next steps," he said. "But that will depend on how the pandemic evolves."

(Reporting by John Revill and Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi)