Czech govt. restricts movement between districts; asks people to stay home except for essential trips

The restriction of free movement in the Czech Republic begins Monday, March 1, and will last for three weeks.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 27.02.2021 05:03 (updated on 27.02.2021)

The government will severely restrict the free movement of people in the Czech Republic as of Monday, March 1, for three weeks to curb the coronavirus epidemic, the cabinet decided at its extraordinary meeting Feb. 26.

The latest lockdown measures follow the newly declared state of emergency, valid from Saturday, Feb. 27, for 30 days, until March 28, which gives the government the authority to establish tougher restrictions.

The declaration of the new emergency state comes on the heels of the deteriorating epidemic situation in the Czech Republic, primarily caused by the rapid spread of the British coronavirus mutation and the confirmed occurrence of a very dangerous South African mutation.

“We are convinced that we need a state of emergency mainly to protect the lives of our fellow citizens. I would go back to last year – on March 12, 2020, we declared a state of emergency, when the number of people infected was 22 and there were three people in the hospital and no one died,” Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said.

“Today, we have 7,100 people in hospitals, almost 1,400 in intensive care units, and unfortunately people die every day, and we must declare a state of emergency at all costs,” Babiš said.

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“We would very much like to go back a year in those three weeks of emergency and try to do the same again. I understand that it is a huge burden for all of us, and it does not make us happy. But if we don't, the whole world will see Bergamo in the Czech Republic, because our healthcare system will simply not be able to withstand it,” Babiš continued.

The PM pleaded with Czechs to observe the lockdown measures. “That is why I ask you – and I understand that our government has made a lot of mistakes in the past and we are aware of that – but in short, we would like you to give us one more chance, so that together we will endure three weeks in a state of emergency to shut down the virus and gradually return to normal,” he said.

Tightened obligations for face masks

As of March 1, in the built-up area of cities, it will be mandatory to wear at least a medical mask, respirator or other similarly effective protective device. Homemade masks are no longer sufficient. In the most risky places, such as shops or public transport, it will no longer be possible to replace the respirator with two medical masks.

Wearing respirators will be obligatory at work as well as of March 1, with the exception of people working in one room alone, Health Minister Jan Blatný said, adding that employers must provide protective devices to employees who come into contact with other persons. Employees will only be able to take off the protective equipment if they are alone in their workplace.

Free movement limited to district

The government has drastically tightened free movement. From March 1, it will be forbidden to leave one's district of permanent residence or domicile, without a fundamental reason, such as a trip to work or to a doctor. Prague counts as a district. Employer's confirmation will be needed for commuting to work in another district. People can do essential shopping within their districts only.

The tightening also applies to daytime movement. Only necessary trips, such as shopping, and trips to nature and sports, will be allowed. Trips can only be with members of one household and in the municipality in which a person has a permanent residence or domicile. The government strongly recommends that operators of playgrounds close them to the public.  

Walks and jogging will be possible only in the municipality where people live during the day and walking dogs within 500 meters of residence late in the evening. The night curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. is to remain valid.

If people own a holiday home, they may go there before March 1, but it will be considered as their place of residence for the duration of the lockdown.

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Visits to relatives within the district of the place of residence will be allowed only to secure necessary needs or care.

An exemption will apply to shared parenting. Participation in wedding or registered partnership ceremony will be possible only in the district where the respective couple lives.

More shops to close

The government has also reduced exemptions for retail shops and services. Only food stores, drugstores, pharmacies, opticians, and florists are allowed to remain open as of Monday. Out of services, an exception is granted to gas stations, car washes, and towing services as well as places issuing goods ordered from e-shops, phone and computer services, and taxis, Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlíček said at the press conference following the government meeting.

Exceptions no longer include, for example, laundries and dry cleaners, car repair shops and spare parts shops, textile material and textile haberdashery shops, locksmith shops, stationery shops, and shops with weapons and ammunition. Once again, children's clothing and footwear stores will be required to close.

The rules for restaurants and other catering establishments will not change and they will still be allowed to provide take-away sales.

The businesses that the government closes from March 1 to 21 will be entitled to financial compensation within four programs, Havlíček added.

Schools and daycares to close from March 1

From March 1, day care for children under the age of three and kindergartens will be closed.

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Students in the first and second years of primary schools, special schools and one-year and two-year practical schools, will also switch to distance learning.

Exceptions will be made only for primary schools, kindergartens and children's groups at medical facilities, schools established at institutions for institutional or protective education. A government regulation also requires governors and the mayor of Prague to provide childcare for employees of the integrated rescue system, critical workers in infrastructure, security forces, and other selected professions.

Antigen testing at work

Havlíček said that no new restrictions would apply to industrial firms as of Monday, but that voluntary testing for COVID-19 would be launched in them, which would become compulsory in a few days. The state would contribute a maximum of CZK 60 per test and to four tests per employee monthly via reliefs from health insurance payments.

Police will do random checks

Police will check the observance of the restrictions at random, including on trains and buses. Police forces will be reinforced by up to 5,000 soldiers for this purpose, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Jan Hamáček said.

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