Increasing coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic are likely to result in Norway applying travel restrictions to the country this week.
The move was signalled on Monday by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), which published similar notifications in July before restrictions were applied to travellers from Spain and Belgium.
Norway’s health authorities designated EEA and Schengen countries as ‘green’ or ‘red’ depending on current infection rates. To remain ‘green’, the figure must be under 20 infections per 100,000 residents in total over the past two weeks.
Once a country is ‘red’, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against travel that is not strictly necessary to that country, and self-quarantine is required for travellers returning or arriving from it. This also means people cannot travel from ‘red’ countries to Norway for tourism.
NIPH said on Monday that it would recommend travel advisories for the Czech Republic to be changed to ‘red’ at the next update scheduled for later this week, unless any change in the situation occurs in the meantime.
The final decision on travel advice is taken by the government based on NIPH assessments.
The Czech Republic has exceeded the 20 per 100,000 resident infections threshold, resulting in the Norwegian public health authority’s forthcoming recommendation.
“New figures show that the Czech Republic is at 26.8 new Covid-19 infections per 100,000 residents for the last 14 days, and the trend is increasing. We are therefore now notifying that, unless the situation changes, NIPH will recommend that the Czech Republic become ‘red’ country and thereby encompassed by quarantine rules,” NIPH head of department Line Vold said in the statement.
Updated quarantine rules and travel advice normally comes into effect at midnight on Friday.
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According to the Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch, the compulsory use of facemasks on public transport may return from October or November.
“In autumn, the normal seasonal flu could compound health risks stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Additional tests will also be needed to exclude other diseases,” says Vojtech.
“The incidence of the disease will determine whether we need to wear face masks again. We need to prevent the spread of infection when other respiratory viruses will circulate,” added Vojtěch.
Currently, masks are mandatory only in the Prague metro and in public transport in the Moravian-Silesian and Jihlava regions. It should also be worn in inpatient facilities and nursing homes, as well as indoors at public events.
The compulsory use of the face mask was introduced by the Czech government on March 19, when citizens were “obliged to wear any form of respiratory protection in public places, including in the open air”.
The Czech Republic had 13,238 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection by Tuesday morning, with 64 new infections on Monday. So far 8,373 people have recovered and 353 people have died.
Although the virus is still circulating in Prague, the capital city has only seen a residual amount of new Covid-19 cases in recent days.
At the beginning of April, the Czech-made video #Masks4All by Petr Ludwig and Aneta Kernová in English language was watched by millions of people worldwide and featured on CNN.
The video encouraged people across the world to wear face masks during the global pandemic to slow down the spread of coronavirus.
From July 1st, the Czech Republic will lift its trailblazing rule requiring face masks to be worn in public transport, a symbolic landmark in the country’s relatively successful battle against Covid-19.
Covering the nose and mouth will continue to be mandatory only in places with a higher incidence of the disease, said Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch (ANO) today.
From 1 July, restaurants and pubs can be open from 23:00 to 06:00.
Vojtěch added that the regulation would still apply in areas of localized COVID-19 outbreaks (Prague and the coal mine region of Karviná). However, the situation could change in the next two weeks.
As of June 22, 5,000 people can take part in public events if people are divided into sectors, Vojtěch added. From Monday, trade fairs with maximum participation of up to 5,000 people at the same time will also be allowed.
“If the situation develops well, half of the football stadiums could open from 1 September,” said epidemiologist Rastislav Maďar.
The Czech Republic was among the first countries in Europe to close its borders against the spread of coronavirus, on 12 March, ordering the closure of most business days later.
But the mask edict – in common with Slovakia – quickly became the symbol of the Czech fight against the pandemic, prompting debate in other countries over whether they should follow suit.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic reached 10,162 on Thursday morning. 7,399 people have fully recovered from COVID-19.