PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government agreed on Monday to relax some lockdown measures that have stifled the economy as growth of new coronavirus infections has been levelling off in recent days, officials said.
The country was among the first in Europe to declare a state of emergency in March, imposing some of the strictest curbs on public life to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when the proven number of cases was still below 200.
Data for the past few days have shown a single-digit percentage daily rise in new cases, to 4,735 on Monday.
Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said that as of Thursday, the government would allow reopening of shops selling hobby goods and building materials, and also relax rules on open-air sports activities where people do not congregate, such as running and cycling. More shops may be opened after the Easter weekend.
Strict hygiene rules will apply, such as distances between customers, disinfection requirements and health checks on staff, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said earlier on Monday.
“We are clearly saying now that we are able to relatively well manage the pandemic here, it is not the pandemic managing us,” Vojtech told a news conference.
“We are not facing massive increases in the numbers of patients – identified or hospitalised.”
The government also approved, as of April 14, easing restrictions on leaving the country, currently permitted only for commuting workers. People will have to present “reasonable grounds” to go, and observe two-week quarantine upon return. Neigbouring Austria also outlined plans to ease some restrictions, and Germany has prepared list of measures which may allow a phased return to normal life after April 19..
The Czech government also plans to carry out test samples of the population this week to gain data on the prevalence of the virus among the general public, which will help shape policies.
A vital aspect of relaxing the lockdown will be a “smart quarantine” plan under which testing teams, using geolocation data from mobile phones and bank transactions, will quickly access, isolate and test all contacts of newly identified patients deemed to be possible spreaders of contagion.
The Czech Republic had 78 deaths among COVID-19 patients as of Monday afternoon, and 391 people in hospital, including 84 severe cases as of Sunday night, Health Ministry data showed.
Worldwide, over 1.27 million people have been reported infected by the viral pandemic and nearly 70,400 have died, according to the latest Reuters tally, with Italy suffering the highest national death toll.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Potter)