March 19, 2020 / 12:48 PM / 14 days ago

With tourists gone, Prague's expat workers adapt to replace lost income

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Foreigners who settled in Prague for a comfortable expat lifestyle and plentiful job opportunities due to a vibrant tourist industry are now rethinking careers and remaking their businesses as they ride out the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: An empty medieval Charles Bridge is seen in Prague, as the Czech government restricts movement of people to slow the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Czech Republic, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo

Lee Broster has been running a wholesale food company catering to hotels and restaurants, but as they have been emptied by the coronavirus outbreak, he has laid off half his staff of 12 and switched to retail, delivering fruit, vegetables, bread and dairy products directly to people’s homes.

“Shifting away from a business we have known about for six years is quite demanding,” the 44-year-old Briton said at his warehouse in Prague while loading orders. “But there is nothing else we can do. We have to change and adapt.”

Broster, whose company generated sales of 40 million Czech crowns ($1.56 million) last year, is adding more products to his online site to serve residents shuttered in their homes.

The Czech Republic has reported 572 cases of coronavirus infections with no deaths so far. The nation of 10.7 million has shut its borders and gone into virtual lockdown, like most other European countries, to try to contain the contagion.

This has dealt a crushing blow to Prague, one of the most visited locations in Europe and which drew nearly eight million tourists in 2018. Tourism accounts for about 3 percent of the Czech economy.

“A BIG LEARNING PERIOD”

British tour guide Tori Burton has turned to generating material for her comedy career as she waits for the tourists, and with them a big chunk of her income, to return.

“Over the last year the tours have been non-stop,” said the 37-year-old who conducts ghost tours through Prague’s cobblestone streets and narrow alleys. “There hasn’t been a lull for years.”

Others are seeking new opportunities on the internet.

English teacher Megan Newnham, 29, moved to online lessons to attempt to replace about half the income she lost when the government tightened restrictions on people leaving their homes.

The American, who has lived in Prague for three years, is now searching worldwide for online teaching work and contacting former students and employers to drum up business.

“People are concerned about getting their basic needs met and paying for their own expenses rather than language lessons, which might be seen as an extra expense,” she said.

“So we are developing new content for parents and children online. It’s been a big learning period and adjustment.”

($1 = 25.5860 Czech crowns)

Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Gareth Jones

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