Czech government speeds up reopening shops as new cases slow

PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic is speeding up plans to ease its coronavirus lockdown by two weeks to get all shops, restaurants and hotels operating again by May 25 as the number of infections stabilises, the industry minister said on Thursday.

The central European country has used drastic measures including shop and school closures, limiting people’s daily movements and making masks obligatory in public in an effort to prevent any uncontrolled spike in the new coronavirus.

With the number of cases declining in recent days, it had planned a cautious lifting of restrictions between this week and June 8, a schedule criticised by business lobbies as too slow.

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said on Thursday the slowing of new infections since the Easter holiday weekend this month had been good enough for the government to move faster.

“We evaluated Easter, the results are very promising,” Havlicek told a televised news briefing. “There will be 14-day intervals (in the re-opening), at the moment (the schedule) roughly copies what is done in Germany or Austria.”

He said the reproduction factor of the virus was at 0.73. The number indicates how many people get infected by every new infected person, and a figure below the neutral level of 1 means the epidemic is on the decline.

The country has seen the daily increase of reported cases drop to an average of 119 in the past week, less than half of what was being recorded in early April.

It has reported a total of 7,138 cases since the start of March, and the number of active cases fell below 5,000 on Wednesday for the first time since April 8.

Havlicek said the easing may be reversed if the situation worsens again.

From Monday, the government will allow shops with floor space of up to 2,500 square metres to re-open, along with fitness centres, libraries, small church services and outdoor zoo exhibits.

On Monday this week, farmers’ markets returned to action, along with craft shops, car dealerships and dog grooming salons.

Shopping centres, larger shops and hair and beauty salons are slated to open again from May 11 under the adjusted plan, which then sees restaurants, hotels, theatres and most other services open by May 25.

The government did not announce any changes to plans to keep schools largely shut for the rest of the school year ending in June, nor any decisions easing a ban on nearly all travel abroad apart from business trips and commuting.

The government did not announce any plans to lift compulsory wearing of face masks in public and said it would decide on allowing public gatherings later.

** For an interactive graphic:

(Graphic: New coronavirus in the Czech Republic – here)

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