‘Normal life is coming back’: Churches in Switzerland to open earlier than expected

Swiss places of worship will be able to reopen from May 28, the government announced Wednesday, to allow weddings, baptisms and other religious celebrations to resume.

“Normal life is coming back,” Health Minister Alain Berset said after the government brought the move forward by a week.

“Mass, worship, marriages, baptisms” and other events in places of worship will all be allowed to resume, he told a press conference.

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In recent weeks, some religious services have been held behind closed doors and broadcast online or on television. In Neuchatel, mass was celebrated online and portraits of parishioners were placed in the pews.

Switzerland stopped short of imposing strict confinement in measures introduced in mid-March aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus.

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It has been gradually lifting its restrictions since barbers, florists, family doctors and hardware stores were allowed to reopen on April 27.

The rates of infection, hospitalisation and death have flattened off in recent weeks, according to the health ministry.

Abbot Vincent Marville stands in the central aisle of the Basilica of Neuchatel.  Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Contact tracing 

“Faith communities should be able to resume their common religious life,” the government said in a statement. “From May 28, all services and celebrations of all faiths will once again be permitted.

“The religious communities have one week to work out protection concepts and to ensure the tracing of possible chains of infection.”

Those organising religious gatherings will have to make a list of all attendees, including their name and telephone number.

If requested, they would then have to pass it on to the  authorities, to identify and inform anyone deemed at risk of being infected.

The list can be disposed of after 14 days.

The disease has infected more than 30,000 people and killed more than 1,600 in Switzerland, which has a population of around 8.5 million.

Primary schools, shops, restaurants and museums have reopened, although physical distancing and hygiene measures remain in force.

Next week, the government is due to reconsider its ban on gatherings of more than five people.

Secondary schools and universities are set to return from June 8.


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