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Czech government imposes its toughest COVID restrictions over holidays

The Czech government will close non-essential shops, services and ski lifts and enforce a stricter curfew from Sunday as it seeks to curb another rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations, Health Minister Jan Blatny said on Wednesday.

Blatny said the government approved moving the country onto the highest level of the government’s risk index, triggering tighter restrictions that will largely lock down the country of 10.7 million during the holiday season.

COVID-19 infections have risen throughout December, coming after the government only just loosened restrictions at the beginning of the month after curbing one of Europe’s biggest spikes in infections in October and November.

On Tuesday, the daily infection tally rose above 10,000 for the first time since Nov. 6.

The country has already re-closed bars and restaurants, so the new restrictions will hit retail outlets and services like hairdressers. Shops selling essential goods will stay open, although supermarkets will be only be allowed to sell essentials. Other items can be ordered online.

A nighttime curfew will shift its start to 9 p.m, from 11 p.m., and public gatherings will be limited to two people outside families. Religious services will be allowed for up to 10% of seat capacity. Ski lifts will close.

In schools, only first- and second-graders will return to classrooms after Christmas break while other students will start with distance learning.

Blatny said the government will meet in the first week of January to review measures, which are set to last until Jan. 10.

Restrictions during the second wave of the pandemic have hit the Czech economy although not as hard as after the initial outbreak when factories also idled, leading to a record second-quarter contraction. 

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