'Outrageous': Prague mayor and other officials react to Christmas market ban

The sudden decision to close the holiday markets took many by surprise, and the reaction is largely negative.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 26.11.2021 12:27 (updated on 26.11.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

The unexpected move to close Christmas markets just as most were about to open has sparked a largely negative reaction. The Czech government yesterday announced that markets that had already opened would shut at 6 pm today and the planned opening of the Old Town Square market and others would not take place.

Drinking alcohol in public, such as mulled wine, has also been banned. Mulled wine and grilled sausages are traditionally major attractions at the markets.

Christmas trees and fresh carp can still be sold on the street, however. Markets that stay open all year, such as farmers markets, can remain open as well, but food and drink purchased there cannot be consumed on the spot.

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib called the government's decision to cancel the Christmas markets “outrageous,” adding that government must offer traders adequate compensation.

“The government's decision to abolish the outdoor Christmas markets literally from day to day is outrageous for all market operators and the stallholders themselves, who often bought the goods on credit. It's unbelievable that the stalls were built and now must be torn down again. The government must pay adequate financial compensation to all stallholders,” Hřib said on Facebook.

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“I consider this to be proof of the ultimate failure of the old government of Andrei Babiš and their absolute inability to plan anything. I wonder what they've been doing to curb the pandemic so far. In addition, it is a complete paradox to close down outdoor markets, such as at náměstí Republiky, and to keep a crowded shopping center [next to it] running,” he said.

He recalled that a similar situation occurred last year. “At that time, we witnessed a situation where good numbers in Prague allowed the government to leave large stores open throughout the country within the PES system. As a result, the pandemic reached another high in January,” he added.

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Market organizing company Taiko also objected to the last-minute decision to close the markets. The company had just held a press conference Wednesday to promote the Old Town Square market. At the time, Taiko’s CEO Jan Dell had been confident that the markets would go ahead. The entertainment program and tree lighting ceremonies had already been canceled to reduce crowds, and stall operators selling food and drink were going to check for vaccination or recovery certificates.

The government announcement on Thursday took them by complete surprise.

“We are shocked and we are desperate. We are surprised that the department stores will remain open, but the markets outside will close,” Taiko spokeswoman Hana Tietze told new server Pražská Drbna.

The closure will cost the operator a significant amount of money. “We have year-round costs for storage and repairs of stalls. We've hired some employees, so we'll call for compensation,” Tietze said.

She confirmed that many stall operators had taken out loans, and will now be unable to sell their goods. This could mean bankruptcy for some of the sellers. Tietze added that she was unsure when the already built market stalls would be taken down.

The Association of Hotels and Restaurants of the Czech Republic (AHR ČR) also considers the government's decision to abolish Christmas markets to be very bad. AHR President Václav Stárek told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) it would have been possible to follow the recommended hygiene requirements. The markets, even in their smaller form, would have attracted tourists to hotels and restaurants.

Even some health experts are not convinced that closing the markets will have any effect. “Banning Christmas markets is nonsense for many reasons. I haven't met a man who gets infected at the Christmas market. Everyone around me, and there are many of them, became infected at home, at work, at school, or at a party. No one got infected in the market. Banning Christmas is a bad move by the government,” molecular biologist Omar Šerý said on Twitter.

Some health experts, though, claim the new restrictions are not tough enough. Immunologist Václav Hořejší would like all large gatherings stop. “The measures are insufficient. In particular, enabling mass events is a mockery,” Hořejší told ČTK.  

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