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UPDATE 1-Swiss postpone plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions

(Adds details, background)

ZURICH, March 19 (Reuters) - Switzerland has postponed plans to relax its COVID-19 restrictions, the government said on Friday, citing increasing coronavirus cases and insufficient progress on vaccinations.

Switzerland had planned to allow outdoor events like football matches and concerts with up to 150 people from Monday as well as allowing restaurants to open terraces to outdoor diners, but instead opted for a more cautious approach as neighbouring France and Germany also rein in reopening.

“The risk of an uncontrolled increase in the number of cases is currently too great for further openings,” the government said on Friday. “In addition, too few people have yet been vaccinated to prevent a sharp rise in hospitalizations.”

The number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein rose by 1,750 on Thursday, well above the seven-day average of 1,285 cases.

Currently, infections are expected to double every three to four weeks, the government said, warning new variants of COVID-19 make up to 80% of the new cases.

“We’ve known for awhile that they aren’t merely more infectious, but also more dangerous,” Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference. “This is not the moment we’d hoped for.”

The government did relax restrictions on indoor meetings for families and friends, up to 10 people from five previously, ahead of Easter.

Torn between public fatigue and warnings from public health experts about reopening too quickly, the government has forged a middle path that is often less strict than neighbouring countries’ approaches.

It has unveiled a 1 billion Swiss franc ($1.07 billion) plan to offer free coronavirus tests for all residents, while grappling with shortages of vaccines it needs for its goal to inoculate all who wish by summer.

Shops, museums, and libraries reopened this month and sporting and cultural activities for youngsters resumed. Schools and many ski lifts are open, but restaurants and cultural venues remain closed. ($1 = 0.9307 Swiss francs) (Reporting by John Revill, editing by John Miller)

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