March 2, 2020 / 10:12 AM / in a month

Czech Republic cancels flights, bars fans from races over coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held to discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will stop flights with South Korea and cities in northern Italy and bar spectators from an international biathlon event this week due to coronavirus concerns, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Monday.

The central European country took the measures after reporting its first three cases of the virus on Sunday in people who had visited or lived in northern Italy, the area with the largest outbreak of coronavirus in Europe.

Some universities kept students away while bus line operator RegioJet also planned to suspend its Prague-Venice-Rome and Prague-Milan international routes at the end of the week.

The stoppage of flights to and from the Italian cities of Milan, Venice and Bologna will last for two weeks and could be extended, Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said.

One of those infected by coronavirus was a teacher at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague who had attended a conference in Italy, prompting the school to cancel classes on Monday and Tuesday as they map out his contact with students and colleagues.

The Czech Technical University was also keeping students and staff from some departments at home on Monday after the patient’s colleague visited the school last week, the university said.

In the country’s second largest city Brno, Mendel University said it would shift to an online course regime and cancel lessons until March 15 due to worries about coronavirus contagion.

Babis said the state security council, which met on Monday to debate precautions to stop the spread of the virus that has infected more than 86,500 worldwide, would convene again on Wednesday to decide on a possible ban on large gatherings.

The council decided on Monday to go ahead with a World Cup biathlon event in Nove Mesto, 165 km (102 miles) southeast of Prague, but without spectators. The event usually attracts tens of thousands from around Europe.

Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet Editing by Mark Heinrich

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