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Swiss to vote in June on government's Covid restrictions

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Swiss to vote in June on government's Covid restrictions
A woman inserts her postal voting envelope into the door of the polling station in Lausanne on September 29, 2019. - Voter concern about climate change could trigger a "green wave" in Switzerland's elections on October 20, 2019, possibly yielding unprecedented gains for parties that back bold action to protect the planet. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The Swiss will vote in June on the validity of a law giving the government new powers to impose lockdowns and other restrictions to rein in Covid-19, Bern said Wednesday.

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Switzerland's Federal Chancellery confirmed that enough signatures had been gathered to trigger a referendum on the 2020 Covid-19 Act as part of the wealthy Alpine nation's direct democratic system.

Campaigners had handed over 97,878 signatures on January 12th, and the chancellery said Wednesday it had determined that 90,789 of them were valid -- far more than the 50,000 needed for the referendum to go ahead.

The issue will be among several voted on on June 13th, the chancellery said.

The Covid-19 Act, adopted by parliament last September, gives the government a legal basis to impose restrictions aimed at tackling the pandemic on an ongoing basis.

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Before the law was introduced, Bern could only impose restrictions through a string of emergency decrees, providing for strictly time-limited measures under tight parliamentary oversight.

A group calling itself "Friends of the Constitution" gathered the signatures needed to trigger the referendum, arguing that the law was unnecessary and voiced concern the government might use it to launch an obligatory vaccination campaign -- something the government adamantly denies.

The announcement came as the government faces increased pressure to loosen restrictions as new Covid-19 cases and deaths have declined significantly in recent weeks.

On Monday, non-essential shops, museums and zoos were permitted to reopen after two months of near-lockdown conditions, but restaurants and other venues remain closed.

The lower house of parliament pushed Wednesday for the government to allow restaurants, cinemas, theatres and gyms to open as of March 22, and called for the lifting of restrictions limiting gatherings to just five people.

Switzerland, a country of 8.6 million people, has seen more than 557,000 cases and 9,258 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

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