The Czech government agreed on Monday to lift a ban on international bus and train travel from May 11, a member of the government said.
The measure was put in place on March 14 in a bid to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
According to carriers, the renewal of international routes will depend on the conditions of trips abroad, like Slovakia and Poland, for example, still restrict the entry of foreigners into the country. It will also depend on the interests of the passengers.
“I will propose the government to lift the ban on international bus and train travel from 11 May. It will also be possible to use buses or trains to cross the border,” wrote the Minister of Industry and Trade Havlíček on Twitter this afternoon.
According to spokesman Aleš Ondrůj, RegioJet is ready to resume its international connections almost immediately. “Currently, we see no reason why cross-border regular passenger transport to countries such as Austria should still be banned,” he said.
Leo Express is also ready to renew its routes to Poland and Slovakia if passengers are interested. However, the company hopes that the Czech government will continue the negotiations with these countries and open the borders.
As of Monday, April 27, the rules for crossing state borders have been changed. EU citizens arriving in the Czech Republic for business purposes and university students from EU countries may now come to the Czech Republic. Czech citizens are able to travel abroad, however, on their return, they must submit to 14 days’ quarantine or provide a test with a negative Covid-19 result.
According to Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (ČSSD), the Czech Republic’s borders with neighboring countries should be fully open from July, Hospodářské noviny writes.
Negotiations with Slovakia and Austria are the most advanced, meanwhile with Poland and Germany “it will require more time”, the minister said this evening.
“From July, I would like the borders to be fully opened to four neighboring countries – Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia. I’m honest when I say that we are well advanced in negotiations with Austria and Slovakia. Negotiations with Poland will probably be the most difficult,” Petříček added.
From August, Czechs could travel not only to Croatia, Slovenia, and Greece, but also to more distant destinations outside Europe, such as Canada, Australia, and Japan.
According to Petříček, it is “still premature to talk about Italy, Spain, France, the USA, and Benelux.”
With effect from April 14th, 2020 Czech citizens and foreigners, are again able to travel abroad, now with the possibility of returning during the state of emergency.
Travel is allowed in necessary and justified cases only (e.g. fulfillment of official duties, work abroad, funeral etc.), which will have to be proven individually to the police at border crossings.
Anyway, as the Prime Minister Babis said in a previous interview, “we had theoretically opened the borders, but in practice, people cannot get anywhere. Flights are mostly canceled and other governments won’t allow people from other countries to enter unless they have a valid coronavirus test.”
On April 20, the President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman says the “borders should remain closed at least for one year to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus.”
Since March, the coronavirus has been confirmed in 7,740 cases. To date, 3,378 people have recovered from Covid-19, while 241 patients have died.
Coronavirus is continuing its spread across the world, with more than three million confirmed cases in 185 countries. More than 200,000 people have lost their lives.
The US has by far the largest number of cases, with more than one million confirmed infections, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University. With more than 60,000 fatalities, it also has the world’s highest death toll.
Producers of illegal drugs in the Czech Republic are suffering due to border closures enacted due to the coronavirus crisis, according to Jakub Frydrych, head of the National Anti-Drug Central.
Illicit drug manufacturers do not have access to ingredients for methamphetamine, and there is a lack of heroin in Prague. On the other hand, marijuana supplies could exceed demand, says Frydrych.
Although it is too soon to speak about major changes, the measures against the spread of coronavirus have already been reflected in the prices and quality of methamphetamine, he said.
Given that drug manufacturers usually smuggle substances containing pseudoephedrine necessary for methamphetamine production from Poland, closed borders make it very difficult for them to procure the main ingredients for drug production.
However, Frydrych explains that the Vietnamese community, which is the dominant producer of illegal drugs in the Czech Republic, has been less affected by the situation than the smaller Czech manufacturers producing an average of 50 grams per production cycle.
In the case of heroin and cocaine, i.e. drugs that are mostly imported into the Czech Republic, the National Anti-Drug Central reports a major shortage in supplies. Heroin, for example, is usually imported by Balkan crime groups.
As for the price increase, according to Frydrych, wholesale prices for methamphetamine among dealers increased by approximately 200,000 CZK per kilogram.
For drug addicts, the situation is all the more complicated because they have often got money to buy drugs through criminal activity such as stealing. But many shops are currently closed over coronavirus.
Furthermore, due to the current situation, the drug dealing itself has changed.
“The importance of mail-order services is rising,” said Frydrych, adding that more drugs are also sold on the so-called dark web market, although this trend was already occurring before the coronavirus epidemic.
On the other hand, Frydrych thinks that there might soon be a marijuana surplus in the Czech Republic. The country is a relatively large exporter of marijuana, but due to closed borders, a significant part of cannabis will remain for sale on the domestic market.
The Czech government banned Czech citizens from traveling abroad when declaring a state of emergency on March 16, but in an attempt to stimulate domestic demand, the government is looking to financially support Czechs who want to travel within their own country.
Travel restrictions were partially eased a month later on April 14 after the government drafted a list of exceptions for those who wish to travel abroad.
Since then, people traveling due to family or business reasons are allowed to leave the Czech Republic. If they stay abroad for more than 24 hours, they must undergo a two-week quarantine after returning to Czechia.
Such a blanket measure banning Czechs from traveling abroad is unique compared to other countries worldwide.
While most states limit the entry of foreigners into their territories, most have not explicitly restricted citizens from traveling abroad.
In addition to the Czech Republic, Belgium is an exception in Europe, forbidding its citizens to travel outside the country in all “non-essential” cases, writes the New York Times.
Czech law experts see no support for the travel ban
Experts point out that Czech law allows the borders to be closed to those who wish to enter the country, it does not allow the country to restrict citizens who wish to travel abroad.
Therefore, some Czech lawyers believe that the ban on traveling outside the country is unconstitutional, even during the state of emergency.
The Czech conception of a state of emergency makes it possible to limit citizens’ movement in a defined area.
However, as constitutional law expert Jan Wintr stated for Hospodářské noviny, the whole world cannot be considered a defined area. The right to leave the Czech Republic is guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which also applies during a state of emergency.
Nevertheless, the Czech government continues to defend the travel ban.
“A blanket travel ban is an extreme measure that was necessary and has proven to work. Therefore, we cannot open the borders at present,” said Interior Minister Jan Hamáček.
President Miloš Zeman also supports the ban. He said on Sunday that the border should be closed for one year to prevent another wave of the coronavirus epidemic from hitting the country.
Czech government’s attitude towards tourism
At the same time, the government is working to support the travel of Czechs within the country, with Zeman even recommending people enjoy the beauty of the Czech landscape
The Czech government is also exploring ways to support the country’s hard-hit tourist industry, with the Ministry of Regional Development developing a plan to keep domestic tourism alive.
Beginning in May, the ministry wants to start offering companies a contribution to holiday vouchers with which employees could travel around the Czech Republic.
“We are preparing a vacation in the Czech Republic program. It is a motivational system that will allow companies to offer employees vacation gift vouchers for their vacation in our country,” Regional Development Minister Klára Dostálová said.
The system is based on recreational vouchers worth 10,000 CZK.
Companies that would offer these vouchers to employees could then deduct the costs from taxes.
In the Czech Republic, the tourism industry is one of the main economic sectors, but it heavily relies on foreign tourists, which nationwide make up just under half of all tourists per year.
Given the reality of closed borders, the tourism industry will depend entirely on domestic visitors in the coming months and possibly years.
The Deputy Minister of Health Roman Prymula yesterday released an interview for DVTV.
“England and Sweden took a conspicuously different approach to the coronavirus from its international peers, trusting the public to adopt voluntary, softer measures to delay the spread of the virus. It didn’t work properly. But a controlled approach that would not be as restrictive as it is now, may deserve attention.”
“In the beginning, we had to slow down the epidemic with strict measures. But now we have to decide whether to continue this method or to “relax” these measures – even if the epidemic goes slightly up,” Prymula said.
“It is not possible to hold tough measures indefinitely. If the growth rate of cases continues to be linear in the coming days, the bans are expected to be lifted,” he added.
“When a group at-risk is managed, the rest of the population should “meet” this virus in time and prove immune. Czechs should meet with coronavirus. I do not say everyone, but those for whom it will not be worse than the flu. And these are people of lower age, and healthy.”
However, Babiš said he disagreed with Prymula, and the idea to create herd immunity against Covid-19 in the Czech Republic.
Shops and services should return to normality after Easter. Other shops exempted from the closure include consumer electronics, florists, newspapers, magazines and tobacco products, and also pet shops and glasses shops. Banks and post offices are also untouched by the ban.
“Schools may reopen around May 15. Students have to wear face masks, it will be obligatory.”
According to Prymula, the borders will also open soon. “But I need to be clear: after everyone’s return, there is a 14-day quarantine. Travel will only be possible in countries where the risk is quite low, so I imagine we can soon travel to Slovakia – and Poland,” he concludes.
The number of new coronavirus cases may reach up to 17,000 in the Czech Republic by mid-April.
President Milos Zeman has said he will award Roman Prymula the Order of the White Lion on October 28, in recognition of his work in fighting the coronavirus epidemic.
The Czech Republic reported its slowest daily percentage rise in confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, as the country entered fourth week of restrictions on business and movement.
The country had 4,591 cases as of Sunday midnight, up 2.6% from the previous day, the Health Ministry said on its website. This was the lowest percentage increase since early March when the country had a handful of known infections.
There were 4,710 tests done on Sunday, down from a record 6,889 on Friday but still up by nearly 2,000 from a week ago, when the daily number of detected infections was higher.