Czech Republic unveils lockdown exit strategy as it declares victory over Covid-19

Prague says masks must still be worn as it releases timetable for reopening society

 Health workers wearing protective face masks watch a member of the contemporary circus company Cirk La Putyka perform at the courtyard of a hospital in Prague, Czech Republic. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

Health workers wearing protective face masks watch a member of the contemporary circus company Cirk La Putyka perform at the courtyard of a hospital in Prague, Czech Republic. Photograph: Martin Divisek/EPA

 

The Czech Republic has unveiled detailed plans for a phased reopening of businesses and schools, after becoming one of the first countries in Europe to declare that it had brought the coronavirus outbreak under control.

The Czech government imposed a state of emergency on March 12th in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and shut down borders, schools, pubs and restaurants and most shops, and made it mandatory for the country’s 10.6 million people to wear face masks in public spaces.

Officials say those swift and sweeping measures and extensive testing helped curb the infection rate: the country has registered a total of 6,151 sufferers of the Covid-19 virus, 163 of whom have died; 82 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday.

Bike shops and DIY stores reopened before the Easter weekend and, despite signs of a rise in people flouting mask-wearing and social-distancing rules, the government has now laid out a timetable for relaunching the economy and schools.

Farmers’ markets and car showrooms will be among the first to get back to business on April 20th, when weddings involving up to 10 people will also be permitted. Other shops will gradually be allowed to resume trading depending on their size, with shopping centres the last to reopen on June 8th.

That is when cinemas, theatres, hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars will also reopen fully, though it will be legal to serve food and drink in Czech beer gardens and other outdoor areas from May 25th.

Cultural, sports and other events involving up to 50 people will also be allowed from June 8th, as will larger weddings providing health rules are observed.

Universities will partially reopen for final-year students on April 20th and schools and colleges will allow students preparing for final exams to attend classes from May 11th, with exams to be held from June. Younger pupils will be able to return on May 25th but attendance will not be compulsory.

Continuing measures

“We have the pandemic under control, we have prevented its uncontrolled spread . . . the situation is positive,” said Czech health minister Adam Vojtech.

He emphasised that the timetable could be adjusted according to how the outbreak evolved, and that Czechs must continue to wear face masks. “We agreed that we would not set any date for lifting this obligation,” he said after a government meeting on Tuesday. “From our point of view, the face masks have proved to be a very important measure.”

Mr Vojtech also said hospitals could start to return to providing regular services, after the Czech health system coped well with the Covid-19 outbreak.

Since Tuesday Czechs can go abroad for important trips and must observe a fortnight’s quarantine on their return, but Mr Vojtech warned that “non-essential travel may not be possible even in summer.

“It will depend on the situation in other countries. We do not want to give predictions without an expert opinion. We are talking about the last relaxation, and certainly it won’t happen earlier than in June. Moreover, under some conditions.”

Neighbouring Poland plans to ease restrictions on some shops from Sunday, as it prepares to hold a controversial presidential election on May 10th that government critics say cannot be conducted safely and fairly during a pandemic.