Government prepares to ease restrictions as epidemic slows down

Photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

With the intensity of the coronavirus epidemic slowing down in the country, the Czech government jhas decided to ease restrictions. These include the return of final year students into high school and practical university classes, as well as an extension in the opening hours for shops.

The government introduced a new Counter-Epidemic System (PES) to monitor the coronavirus epidemic in the Czech Republic at the beginning of this week. The system has five levels of escalation which are activated based on the current risk index number, which is calculated from the value of the reproduction number, the rate of individuals who have tested positive over the past seven days and the number of infected among the general and senior population.

Jan Blatný,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

When the system was put in place on Monday, the Ministry of Health set the fifth, highest escalation level. However, the index number gathered over the past week days actually indicates the situation is equivalent to the fourth and therefore lower risk level. Health Minister Jan Blatný said on Friday he would propose downgrading the risk level to fourth and effecting a further easing of restrictions as of Monday.

“Since last Wednesday, the epidemic level in our country has been equivalent to level four of the PES system. This is why the government will discuss switching the countrywide risk level from level five to level four starting next Monday.”

On its website, the Ministry of Health includes the measures that are equivalent to each level. If the level of risk is lowered to number four this would mean for example extending the number of people that can meet to six individuals, or activating night curfew from 11pm as opposed to the current 9pm. However, the health minister has said that PES is not a robotic system and that specific changes will have to be first discussed with the government before they come into effect.

One area where a significant easing of restrictions has already been announced is the education sector. Education Minister Robert Plaga announced the changes on Thursday.

Robert Plaga,  photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

“From Wednesday, November 25, classroom teaching will be reinstated for final year high school students. Practical classes will also return for groups not exceeding 20 individuals. The same measure, that means classroom teaching of practical subjects, such as laboratory research, art classes and similar activities will be reactivated for final year university students. PhD students will also be allowed to visit universities on an individual basis.”

After a joint discussion, the government is expected to announce its full plan on the easing of restrictions this Friday. In an interview ahead of the meeting, Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlíček told Czech Radio’s Radiožurnál what he expects to change in regard to services.

“We are looking at the big picture. We are now moving into PES level four, which does not yet mean any significant changes to restrictions on shops. That will only come into effect when we reach level three. Personally, I would be in favour of extending the opening hours for shops until 11pm, that means setting the maximum opening hours for shops to the new night curfew. We also want to discuss the possibility of shops being open on Sunday too.”

As of Friday, the index number lies at 62, three points short of level three. Mr. Havlíček has indicated that a partial reopening of non-essential shops therefore could be possible sometime next week.