Earlier last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged to work toward the reopening of the summer tourist season on 1 July, after the coronavirus pandemic had put into doubt the future of many tourist-related businesses in the country.
“Greece and the Czech Republic are also negotiating a variant of traveling without a COVID-19 negative test result,” said today in a press release today the Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek after talks with Greek Foreign Minister Harry Theoharis.
“The Greek minister assured us that the vast majority of islands will be open to Czechs. We are also considering an option to enter Greece without a test,” Smolek added.
The Greek government announced the reopening of restaurants and cafes in the country on 1 June, thanks to the population’s great efforts in stifling and stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
Greek authorities on Monday (May 18) opened up more than 200 archaeological sites that were closed for almost two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Archeological sites are in the first category of cultural sites that will reopen, followed by open-air summer cinemas on June 1, museums on June 15, and art events on July 15, culture minister Lina Mendoni has announced.
The sites will operate from 8 am to 8 pm, and the visitors will be required to keep a distance of 1.5 meters from one another. Authorities have also announced strict rules for using the restroom facilities at the sites, including disinfecting the hands and wearing face masks.
Wizz Air is already selling tickets to several Greek destinations from London Luton for July including Zakynthos, Heraklion, Corfu, and Rhodes.
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.
Václav Havel Prague Airport remains open for all arrivals and departures. Thanks to this fact, a total of 44 special cargo flights with medical supplies were able to land there since 20 March 2020 when the first aircraft with medical supplies on board landed in Prague.
More than 1,200 tons of medical aid in total has already reached the Czech Republic. The total volume of cargo handled at Prague Airport, including regular cargo routes, has increased by 26.5% year-on-year during this period.
Since 18 March 2020, Prague Airport has also handled a total of 33 arrivals and departures of repatriation flights with passengers on board. More than 3,600 passengers, mostly Czech citizens returning home to their families and loved ones from abroad, have arrived in the Czech Republic aboard those flights.
Moreover, approximately 900 foreign nationals have been able to travel back home from the Czech Republic this way.
“Since the second half of March, important medical supplies have been brought to the Czech Republic via Václav Havel Airport Prague almost daily, confirming the strategic importance of our airport within the transport infrastructure of the country. The flights with medical supplies on board are primarily handled by employees of Prague Airport and its subsidiaries, alongside other handling companies and additional partner organizations, such as the Czech Fire Rescue Service, the Czech Police, the Army of the Czech Republic and the Administration of the State Material Reserves,” Vaclav Rehor, Chairman of the Prague Airport Board of Directors, said.
For several months, due to the spread of COVID-19, stringent sanitary measures have been applied to both passengers and airport staff who continue to perform their irreplaceable roles in the airport with limited traffic.
The measures have gradually been introduced since the end of January. For example, in places where queues usually form, stickers are placed advising people to keep a safe distance. Check-in counters and information desks continue to use protective screens, which form an effective barrier between the passenger and the employee.
Every passenger on arrival receives a face mask if they are lacking one, together with an information leaflet on mandatory procedures upon arrival from abroad to the Czech Republic. The arrival gates and other passenger check-in areas are regularly disinfected thoroughly.
“Prague Airport has managed to secure a sufficient amount of protective gear and disinfectant on time. Thus, every employee has access to respirators, face masks, gloves and other protective equipment. There are also more than 250 hand sanitizers located throughout the airport. Employees are consistently and regularly trained in the prevention, as well as their family members, for whom we have created and distributed family-friendly leaflets on the prevention of the spread of COVID-19,” Vaclav Rehor stated.
However, regular traffic at Václav Havel Airport Prague continues to decline. Last March, the airport handled approximately 6,015 arrivals and departures, which is a year-on-year decrease of 47.3%.
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.