PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czechs raised glasses in pubs, grabbed lunch again at restaurants and hit the shops for the first time since October on Thursday as coronavirus measures were eased before the Christmas season.
After curbing one of Europe’s fastest spreads of the new coronavirus, and despite fears the re-opening could lead to a surge of infections, Czechs cooped up for weeks headed eagerly out to shops, hairdressers, restaurants and pubs allowed to open with capacity requirements.
“It is certainly a huge benefit and I think it adds to the Christmas atmosphere that people can enjoy the shops again,” said Marcela Judlova after shopping on Prague’s central Wenceslas Square.
Daily infections still hover in the thousands.
The death rate in recent weeks is also among the highest in Europe and has jumped 12-fold to 8,515 in the last two months.
Neighbouring countries are keeping tighter measures for now. Germany said on Wednesday it would extend measures, including keeping restaurants shut, until Jan. 10.
** For an interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/36AWTYP
(GRAPHIC: The pandemic in the Czech Republic and its neighbours – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CZECH-REOPENING/azgpozodgvd/chart.png)
Czech media reported scattered lines of customers outside shops and hairdressers around the country. One pub manager told Reuters a line of people was outside before doors opened.
“It was something we were looking forward to for two months,” said university professor Jan Koci after visiting a pub in Prague with colleagues. “We had one beer for lunch and three after.”
Havel Parkan, owner of Cafe Jericho in Prague, told Reuters he was fully booked for the next two evenings – a welcome respite after sales crashed 80% last month.
For retailers, such as outdoor clothes maker Alpine Pro, the reopening provides a glimmer of hope to salvage sales during the holiday shopping season.
“It has been absolutely catastrophic because we have shops closed for more than 40 days and we are completely cut off from any cashflow,” owner Vaclav Hrbek said.
** For interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3mBkwWI
(GRAPHIC: Czech Republic: daily COVID-19 cases – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CZECH-REOPENING/xegvbqrnjpq/chart.png)
(Reporting by Jason Hovet, Editing by Michael Kahn and Janet Lawrence)