ZURICH - Switzerland unveiled a 1 billion Swiss franc ($1.08 billion) plan on Friday to offer free coronavirus tests for its entire population as part of measures to ease the country's exit from COVID-19 restrictions. Under the proposals each person would be given five self-test kits per months, as soon as reliable tests are available, the government said, while all tests at pharmacies and testing centres will be free of charge. Companies and schools should carry our repeated tests using pooled saliva samples to improve prevention and detect outbreaks early, it said. Workers at companies which test frequently could be exempt from quarantine requirements. To ensure more testing is carried out, the government proposed to pay for the voluntary tests. It estimated the expanded testing scheme will cost more than 1 billion francs this year. A final decision on the proposal is due on March 12, with the plan due to take effect from March 15. Cross-border commuters will also be covered. "In order to specifically interrupt chains of infection, it must be possible to quickly identify who is carrying the virus," the government said. "Testing is therefore a central component of pandemic control." Switzerland is slowly emerging from its latest lockdown, with shops, museums, and libraries reopening and sporting and cultural activities for youngsters resuming this week. Schools and many ski lifts are open, but restaurants and cultural venues remain closed. The next stage of reopening is planned for March 22 if the course of the pandemic allows, the government has said. It will decide on March 19 what steps to take next. So far 9,331 people have died https://www.covid19.admin.ch/en/overview?ovTime=total of COVID-19 in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein during the pandemic, while 562,290 cases have been confirmed. Church bells rang out at noon and people observed a minute of silence to mark a year since the country's first death from COVID-19. ($1 = 0.9263 Swiss francs) REUTERS
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