March 13, 2020 / 11:40 AM / 25 days ago

Czechs ban most travel in and out of country to fight coronavirus

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government is to ban foreigners entering the country and Czechs travelling abroad as of Monday as it tries to curb the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday.

Passengers wearing protective masks wait for a train at Prague's main railway station, as the Czech government bans most travel in and out of the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Czech Republic, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

There will be exceptions as the government tries to keep imports and exports running in the central European country that is highly dependent on trade and also a transit country for goods criss-crossing Europe. Truck traffic will be allowed.

People working in border areas of a neighbouring country within a range of 100 km (60 miles) would be allowed to cross, officials said. The distance was widened from a previously planned 50 km.

Babis said the restrictions on the arrival on foreigners, with the exception of those with temporary or permanent residency, would come in from midnight Sunday into Monday.

The main Czech airline group Smartwings/Czech Airlines said it would suspend all flights to and from the country by then and ground up to 23 planes, half of its fleet.

The government has also widened a requirement for Czechs returning from abroad to self-quarantine at home upon arrival from those arriving from just Italy to a total of 15 countries, including neighbours Germany and Austria.

The country, which reported 120 cases of the coronavirus and no deaths as of Friday, has been among the swiftest in Europe to attempt to throw up walls to contain the outbreak on the continent and called a state of emergency on Thursday.

Consultancy Deloitte’s chief economist David Marek estimated a month in this regime could lead to losses of 0.8% to 1.1% of gross domestic product, or around 66 billion crowns ($2.80 billion).

The government has this week already closed schools, leisure and entertainment centres and banned public events for more than 30 people. Restaurants must close at 8.p.m. daily as of Friday.

Deputy health minister Roman Prymula told Radio Z on Friday shopping malls could be next for restrictions to limit gathering places for young people.

Reacting to sharp increase in food sales, Babis called on people not to stockpile food, saying there would be no restriction on food sales under any future scenario.

“It cannot happen that food would not be available. There is no reason to make inventories,” he said.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller, additional reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans, Alison Williams and Nick Macfie

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