June 18, 2020 / 8:42 AM / 17 days ago

Czechs lay ground for further easing of coronavirus measures

FILE PHOTO: Children exercise in a park as the Czech government lifted more restrictions allowing people go out without face masks in most public spaces, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, May 25, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will loosen many remaining restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the coming weeks, allowing larger crowds to gather, people to mostly ditch face masks and zoos and museums to return to normal operations.

Health Ministry Adam Vojtech said on Thursday the country, which has kept the daily rise in new infections to below 100 for the past two months, was moving away from blanket nationwide measures to a localised approach and individual responsibility.

“The virus is still here, it has not disappeared anywhere,” he told a news conference.

The country of 10.7 million has reported a total of 10,176 cases of the novel coronavirus, although almost three quarters have recovered. Its death toll of 333 people is a fraction of that in much of western Europe.

The government has allowed shops, restaurants and entertainment like cinemas and theatres to re-open since May. It opened up to travel from most other European Union countries this week.

From June 22, gatherings can reach 1,000 people, up from 500. Trade fairs with up to 5,000 people will also be allowed. Pools, zoos, museums and castles and chateaus can also return to normal operations, cancelling limits on visitors.

Starting in July, pubs can stay open past 11:00 p.m. and filmgoers can again enjoy popcorn and other snacks in cinemas, according to plans.

Vojtech also said face masks inside should no longer be mandatory from July 1 for most of the country. However, hot spots like in the capital, Prague, or the Karvina mining region in the east, where cases have been higher, would still need to use masks.

Reporting by Jason Hovet, editing by Larry King

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