May 2, 2020 / 2:56 PM / a month ago

Growing chances more Slovak shops will reopen soon, prime minister says

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Chances are rising that Slovakia will allow more shops to open next week, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Saturday as the number of new coronavirus infections remained low.

FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Prime Minister Igor Matovic wears a protective face mask as he speaks during a news conference at the Government Office in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

The country of 5.5 million people has reported 1,407 cases of the virus, although daily new infections have been less than 10 for the past week.

“The chance that all shops outside of shopping malls will be open from May 6 are dramatically rising,” Matovic said in a Facebook post on Saturday, after only four new infections were recorded for the previous day.

Slovakia has reported 24 deaths from COVID-19, giving it one of the lowest rates per capita in Europe.

It has already started easing some restrictions. Smaller stores, outdoor markets and takeaway restaurants have been allowed to reopen in the first step of a four-stage plan to restart the economy.

Stage two is expected to start on May 6 and includes opening hairdressers and taxi services. It will also allow religious services and weddings with a limited number of guests.

All will be subject to strict hygiene rules.

A team of public health experts will meet on Monday to consider the reopening of more shops, Matovic said on Thursday.

Authorities will still monitor for any resurgence in infections.

More than two-fifths of infected patients have recovered since the first detections of the new virus were reported in Slovakia in March. The country was one of the quickest to close borders and implement measures to contain the spread.

The economy, though, has been hard hit by a lockdown of many activities and the central bank on Wednesday predicted the economy would shrink by between 5.8% and 13.5% this year.

For an interactive graphic on new coronavirus cases in Slovakia: tmsnrt.rs/2xd7Rox?eikon=true

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by David Holmes

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