By Jiri Skacel
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Farmers markets, craft shops, car dealerships and dog grooming salons opened in the Czech Republic on Monday, another step towards a return to normal life as the government grows more confident the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
Although strict hygiene rules are still in force such as requiring farmers to display produce two metres apart, the decision offered a glimmer of hope to small businesses hit hard by the lockdown.
“This is relief from the stress that we will have to throw away the harvest,” said Milan Vystejn, a vegetable grower from the Melnik region north of Prague, at a stand in Prague’s Tylovo Square.
“On the other hand, we are afraid of catching Covid as Prague has the most of it,” he said at his stand with potatoes, celery, parsley, carrots and vegetable plants.
The central European country lifted restrictions after the coronavirus outbreak stabilised in the past week. Around 5,300 cases have been reported with 188 deaths, fewer than most west European countries.
The Czech government moved quickly to impose some of Europe’s strictest measures, closing schools and most borders, and shuttering restaurants and shops apart from food stores and pharmacies.
While residents enjoyed being able to shop in more places, business groups eager to recharge the nation’s economy called the moves cautious in comparison with countries like neighbouring Germany.
The lobby group for retail trade, SOCR, said the government did not make clear what it based its reopening plan on or how future developments would alter it.
“I would for example understand a limit on the number of people rather than size of the store,” SOCR chief Tomas Prouza told Reuters.
Small shops of up to 200 square metres are to open next Monday followed by those up to 1,000 square metres and fitness centres on May 11.
Restaurant and beer gardens, hair salons and museums get back to business on May 25 with all other shops, including malls, pubs and hotels, due to open their doors on June 8.
Dog groomer Martin Kuruc, co-owner of the Darling salon, said after using the downtime for refurbishment he was happy to have a line of clients waiting for a trim.
“This now means a lot of work,” he said. “It all got backed up so we will be running morning to evening, Saturdays, Sundays, holidays.”
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(Additional reporting and writing by Jan Lopatka, Editing by Michael Kahn and Ed Osmond)