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Chop, chop! Swiss barbers back in business

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Geneva (AFP)

Barbers were doing a roaring trade among shaggy-haired customers on Monday as Switzerland started to ease restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic.

The Swiss stopped short of full confinement in emergency measures introduced last month to combat the spread of COVID-19.

But on Monday the country started the first of a three-stage lifting of the restrictions, requiring affected businesses to put in place protection plans for their customers and employees.

Doctors' surgeries, dentists, nursery schools, hairdressers and massage and beauty salons were permitted to reopen, along with hardware stores, garden centres and florists.

In Geneva, hairdressers were up early to get started on the long list of clients seeking a welcome trim.

Wearing a fabric mask and a plastic face shield, Anita Ayma, boss at the Anita Coiffure salon, was working through a 12-hour string of bookings.

Just inside the door, a homemade sign next to a dispenser bottle read: "Please disinfect your hands and put on a mask. Thank you."

- Bookings filling up -

"My regulars are very dear to me but we have to keep our distance and can't kiss upon greeting," Ayma told AFP.

"I'm delighted that we're starting up again. If we don't work, things are dead."

Ayma said she was reliant on the state financial support for businesses forced to close.

Customer Sergey Ostrovsky said: "Super! I'm very happy!", as he ran his hands through his newly-cropped hair.

"The last day before the lockdown, I didn't have time to come. A minute after I heard they were reopening, I booked an appointment," the 44-year-old music professor said.

A nearby Mod's hair branch was doing brisk trade, with busy staff, the phone ringing constantly and pencilled-in bookings rapidly filling up the weeks ahead.

"We've got work on," said hairdresser Ines. "It's busier than a normal Monday. Clients were here as we opened.

"We respect all the rules: two metres between customers, disinfectant, we disinfect each chair after each client."

Every second chair in the salon was left empty to ensure physical distancing.

- Florists' new risk -

More than 29,000 people in Switzerland have tested positive for coronavirus, while more than 1,300 have died in the landlocked European country of 8.5 million people.

Geneva has the Alpine nation's highest positive test rate, at more than one in 100 people.

It wasn't just hairdressers who were happy to return to work on Monday.

Fragrant multi-coloured bouquets of roses, hortensias and bellflowers were back outside Phillippe Wuillemin's reopened florist's shop.

During the lockdown, Wuillemin Fleuristes took telephone bookings and did deliveries but the shop had to close.

"All our contracts were cancelled. We had one person working out of seven. We were keeping up appearances," said Wuillemin.

"We're pleased to be open again but now it's a new challenge, a risk, because we don't know if we'll do any business.

"It's a perishable product. I can put out a choice of flowers, but are they going to sell?" he said, with most people still staying at home.

However, customers have been popping in.

"Plenty of people have come. They're so happy because they have missed having flowers in the house."

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