March 14, 2020 / 3:09 AM / 14 days ago

Czech government closes most shops, restaurants to fight coronavirus

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government shut most shops and restaurants for 10 days on Saturday to widen its response to the spread of coronavirus.

A man wearing protective suit walks across the Old Town Square, as the Czech government shut most shops and restaurants for 10 days as part of measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Prague, Czech Republic, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The surprise move, which the public learned about on Saturday morning, is in addition to other restrictions imposed in recent days, including closing schools and banning public events such as sports games or concerts.

Foreign travel will be banned and foreigners will be barred from entering the country from Monday. People working in border areas will be allowed to cross borders while the state wants to keep imports and exports moving.

The Czech Republic, which has a population of 10.7 million people, reported 27 news cases on Saturday, pushing the number of confirmed infections to 177, with no deaths, the Health Ministry said. Daily tests have risen into the hundreds in the past week.

The new order excludes food stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices, gas stations and takeaway food premises.

“We wanted to avoid people going to shopping centres today,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in a televised news conference.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said the aim was to spread the rise of infections over time to reduce the strain on the health system.

“We need people to go to work but stay home afterwards,” Hamacek said. “Those (countries) who have managed to do something about the situation say ... limit interaction among people.”

Facing an economic hit from the measures, many restaurants in the capital Prague and other cities adjusted to the ban by switching to takeaway services, handing orders out of windows or doors or using delivery services.

While countries in central Europe like the Czech Republic have reported fewer cases than their western neighbours, the region’s governments have taken swift steps to contain the spread with controls on borders and closures of shops and schools.

The Czech government, though, has been under fire on social media for taking a heavy-handed approach while not testing people more widely. Health workers have reported shortages of protective equipment such as face masks and respirators at hospitals, senior care centres and pharmacies.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech told Czech Radio that healthcare was lacking up to 1 million respirators and said 1.7 million were on order. Babis said earlier 51,000 respirators were distributed to health facilities on Friday.

The government has said it aimed to ramp up testing by involving more laboratories and ordering 100,000 rapid-result test kits for delivery next week.

Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Perry, Edmund Blair and Mike Harrison

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