Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to be studying the Czech approach to relaxing the restrictions it imposed earlier than most countries in Europe. Prague was one of the few governments to declare a state of emergency before the country had recorded its first coronavirus death. By March 11 it had closed schools, limited public gatherings, banned public events, closed its borders and ordered all non-essential stores to cease trading. It also made face masks obligatory in public.
Czech health officials believe their swift action helped limit the number of cases so far to 7,400 with just 221 deaths from COVID-19.
And it is also allowed them to bring forward their five-stage plane to come out of lockdown.
Earlier this month it became the first European country to start to ease restrictions by allowing citizens to cycle, jog and walk in the countryside without wearing masks, as long as they stayed two metres apart.
Sports facilities, such as tennis courts and golf courses, were allowed to reopen as long as no more than two people played together, and selected non-essential shops returned to business on April 9.
Deputy prime minister Karel Havlíček divided businesses and activities into five main groups which would reopen their doors in stages over the following eight weeks.
Craft shops, car showrooms and farmers’ markets were the first to reopen from April 20, with smaller shops outside shopping malls scheduled to follow today with larger shops outside malls, driving schools and fitness centres to follow.
The final stages were due to come into effect in late May and early June, with restaurants allowed to serve customers outside, and hairdressers and beauty salons permitted to reopen, followed by shopping malls.
But the government has brought forward its exit plan as its coronavirus infection curve continued to fall.
Most venues are now being allowed to reopen two weeks earlier than planned, with gyms and all stores smaller than 2,500sq m outside shopping malls allowed to reopen today.
Outdoor restaurant and bar areas can reopen from 11 May, along with hairdressers and beauty salons.
Restaurants are expected to resume indoor service and hotels allowed to reopen from 25 May, two weeks earlier than the previous June 8 date.
The government also announced it would open its borders for outbound foreign travel after recording a decline in the number of infections.
Health minister Adam Vojtěch said returning travellers would have to prove they were uninfected or spend 14 days in quarantine.
The easing of restrictions in the Czech Republic comes as England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said and there was “no perfect solution” to easing the UK’s lockdown and warned there were “difficult choices” to be made.
A total of 21,092 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday, up by 360 from 20,732 the day before.
Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on his first day back in Downing Street following his recovery from COVID-19, said the UK is at the point of “maximum risk” in its battle with the virus.
He said he acknowledged frustrations over the continuing lockdown but insisted he would not risk a second peak in the disease by relaxing restrictions too quickly.
Mr Johnson said: “When we are sure that this first phase is over and that we are meeting our five tests – deaths falling, NHS protected, rate of infection down, really sorting out the challenges of testing and PPE, avoiding a second peak – then that will be the time to move on to the second phase in which we continue to suppress the disease and keep the reproduction rate – the R rate – down, but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy.
“And in that process difficult judgments will be made and we simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the Government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.”
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