Government ends ban on free movement and leaving country, accelerates reopening of businesses

Roman Prymula, Adam Vojtěch, photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

The Czech government has ended a ban on free movement brought in to curb the coronavirus epidemic, while citizens are now allowed to leave the country once again. At the same time, a plan to restart sections of the economy will conclude in late May, two weeks sooner than previously announced.

Roman Prymula,  Adam Vojtěch,  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
There were so many developments on Thursday it was difficult to keep up. Even Health Minister Adam Vojtěch described the day as a “massacre”.

In the afternoon a Prague court overturned as unlawful several measures introduced to combat Covid-19.

But if that seemed dramatic, it was soon overshadowed by Mr. Vojtěch himself.

Twenty minutes into a press briefing he answered a question about cross-border workers with some big news.

“We have relaxed the ban on free movement. And in that case it will be possible to travel abroad, with the proviso that it will be necessary, if somebody returns, to either have evidence of a negative test for Covid-19 or to go into quarantine.”

To clarify, while the prohibition on free movement has been lifted, it is not permitted to be in a public place in groups of 10 or over.

As for Czech citizens returning from abroad, certificates stating they do not have the coronavirus may not be over four days old.

In any case, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has since poured cold water on this news, saying international travel remains in the realms of theory.

Another cabinet member, Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlíček, also had sizable news on Thursday: a government road map to reopen sections of the economy is being sped up.

This is possible because a feared spike in infections after the Easter holiday did not materialise, while the Covid-19 reproduction number is below 0.75, he said.

Karel Havlíček,  photo: archive of Czech Government
“We can afford to loosen restrictions more quickly. We’ve always said we cannot waste a single day when it comes to easing business activities. Firms have been standing still for a month or six weeks. Their overheads are huge and we simply can’t allow firms to go bankrupt in large numbers.”

This means that many shops of up to 2,500 square metres will reopen on Monday. Larger stores not in shopping malls will be free to welcome customers again a week later.

Shopping centres, beer gardens, hairdressers, galleries and some other facilities can get back in business from May 11.

The most eye-catching news is the bringing forward by a fortnight of the final part of the roadmap; restaurants, cafés and hotels will now reopen on May 25.

In one other development, the government responded to the court ruling against its measures by reversing a decision not to seek a further extension to a state of emergency due to run out on Thursday.

Early next week it will ask MPs to keep the measure in place, also until May 25.