PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech government cleared stores, shopping malls, restaurants, bars and hotels to reopen Thursday, easing some of the most restrictive measures it imposed to contain a massive surge in coronavirus cases and allowing a semblance of normalcy to return ahead of the holidays.
All of the Czech Republic's neighbors, including Germany, remain under various forms of lockdowns. The European Union warned member nations Wednesday not to rush into lifting their infection-control restrictions to prevent a post-Christmas increase in new virus cases and deaths.
The government also lifted an overnight curfew, a ban on drinking alcohol in public places and a ban on Sunday sales.
Businesses were permitted to reopen with conditions. Restaurants can serve customers four per table during the hours of 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. and must limit the number of patrons to 50% of capacity. Stores and shopping centers must limit the number of shoppers to one per 15 square meters (161 square feet) of space.
Fitness centers and gyms also returned to business, as well as zoos, parks, museums, galleries, libraries, public swimming pools and casinos. Hair salons faced a particular demand for service.
Concert halls, theaters and cinemas remain closed. Some people in the Czech capital were delighted by any return to public life.
“It wasn’t just pubs that were closed, it was everything that was closed,” Tomas Sedlacek said in one of Prague’s bars. “The very fact that you can actually see somebody in real life is beautiful.”
But some argue the easing comes too soon.
Former Health Minister Roman Prymula, an epidemiologist, told Czech public radio that it would have been better only to permit small stores to reopen given the current state of the pandemic. While the infection rate in the Czech Republic has improved, “the decline has slowed down significantly,” Prymula said.
The Czech Republic has been among the hardest hit by the resurgence of coronavirus infections in Europe, but its infection rate has been on a decline for almost a month.
The country of 10.7 million has reported 533,042 confirmed cases and 8,372 virus-related deaths. The vast majority of deaths - 7,700 - took place in October and November.
The day-to-day increase in new confirmed cases reached 4,563 on Wednesday, about 500 fewer than a week ago. Medical workers at hospitals are still working in an emergency climate, Milan Kubek, the head of the Czech Medical Chamber, said.
“We deserve to have a chance to catch our breath,” he said.
“There’s a threat that we will be able to enjoy Christmas but the situation will be worse in January than it’s now,” Kubek said.
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
Associated Press video journalist Adam Pemble contributed to this report.