World News

Czech govt scales back plan to reinstate face mask requirement after backlash

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government has scaled down its plans on reinstating a requirement to wear face masks in public from the start of September to slow an expected surge in COVID-19 infections, following a backlash from the public and businesses.

The Czech Republic was among the first countries outside Asia to order citizens to cover their faces in public in March.

It was also among the first to drop that requirement in the summer, after recording only a few hundred deaths from the respiratory disease.

The government, fearing a jump in case numbers when children return to schools and people to work from their summer breaks, said on Monday that people would have to wear face masks on public transport, in public buildings, medical and social care facilities, shops and restaurants, at public events, and in school corridors.

But after a wave of criticism that the order was excessive and hard to enforce, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Thursday the government’s team of experts had decided to drop the requirement for schools, shops and restaurants.

The order will still take effect in public buildings, on public transport and at events with more than 100 people.

“We perceive opposing opinions. We have to look for a compromise - we are not deaf and blind,” Vojtech told reporters.

“It is a question of what is ideal from the epidemiological point of view and what is the reality, the impact on individual groups and so on,” he said.

Vojtech said the government would evaluate the situation according to its regional “traffic light” system and impose tougher requirements in places where cases surge.

He said there was little visibility over the likely severity of the pandemic in the autumn, saying he saw a 50-50 chance that the situation would get serious.

The Czech Republic, with a population of 10.7 million, hasso far reported around 20,798 COVID-19 cases in total and 404 deaths - very low compared with many European countries.

It currently has 4,778 active cases and only 112 people in hospital as of Wednesday.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Hugh Lawson