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Country eases coronavirus measures after quick response helped it limit cases to 7,400

Many shops outside shopping malls are reopening in the Czech Republic after the government brought forward its five-stage lockdown exit plan, amid reports that the British government is closely watching the countrys back-to-business strategy.

Under increasing pressure to lift parts of the UKs lockdown and limit the damage to the economy, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is understood to be studying the Czech Republics approach to lifting the tight restrictions it imposed earlier than most countries further west, which have helped it limit cases to 7,400, with just 221 deaths.

Prague was one of the few governments to declare a state of emergency before the country had recorded its first coronavirus death. By 11 March it had closed all schools, limited public gatherings, banned all public events, sealed its borders and shuttered all non-essential stores. It also made face masks obligatory in public.

Early this month it became the first European country to relax its restrictions, initially by allowing citizens to cycle, jog and walk in the countryside without wearing their masks, as long as they stayed 2 metres apart.

Some 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 including cycle stores, repair shops and hardware and DIY stores also returned to business on 9 April.

On 15 April the government unveiled a detailed five-step plan to reopen the broader economy, with the deputy prime minister, Karel Havlek, dividing businesses and activities into five main groups which would reopen their doors in stages over the following eight weeks.

Craft shops, car dealerships and farmers markets were the first to reopen from 20 April, with smaller shops outside shopping malls scheduled to follow on 27 April, then larger shops outside malls, driving schools and fitness centres.

The final stages were to happen 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. Bars and restaurants were to be allowed to resume indoor service by 9 June, with hotels also allowed to reopen.

Public amenities and meeting places, such as museums and galleries, as well as cultural venues including theatres, would be among the last facilities to reopen, while schools were to start returning from 11 May. Havlek stressed that the government reserved the right to adjust its dates.

As its infection curve continued to fall, however, the government last Thursday brought forward its exit plan, speeding up the process. Most venues are now to reopen two weeks earlier than initially planned, with gyms and all stores smaller than 2,500sq m outside shopping malls allowed to reopen on Monday.

The five-stage plan is now a four-stage plan: outdoor restaurant and bar areas reopen from 11 May, along with hairdressers and beauty salons, with restaurants expected to resume indoor service and hotels allowed to reopen from 25 May, two weeks earlier than the previous 8 June date.

The government also unexpectedly announced it would open its borders for outbound foreign travel after recording a decline in the number of infections. The health minister, Adam Vojtch, said returning travellers would have to prove they were uninfected or spend 14 days in quarantine.

Face masks will remain mandatory until the end of June, but restrictions are being eased on movement within the country, with groups of up to 10 now permitted to gather, compared with a previous limit of two.

The full breakdown of the countrys lockdown exit plan is as follows:

Already open (since 20 April):

  • Craftspeople and tradespeople with shops

  • Farmers markets

  • Car dealerships

  • Weddings for up to 10 people

27 April:

  • Most shops below 2,500sq m, unless in big shopping malls

  • Driving schools

  • Gyms, although changing rooms and showers remain closed

  • Libraries

  • Outdoor areas of zoos and botanical gardens

  • Church services for fewer than 15 people

11 May:

  • Retail stores in malls

  • Retail stores larger than 2,500sq m outside malls

  • Hairdressers, beauty salons, massage parlours

  • Outdoor and garden areas of restaurants, pubs and cafes

  • Museums, galleries, and art halls

25 May:

  • Indoor service in restaurants, bars and cafes

  • Hotels

  • Taxis

  • Theatres

  • Tattooists

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/czech-republic-shops-reopen-as-part-of-gradual-coronavirus-lockdown-exit