By Jiri Skacel
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech restaurant and hotel operators saw light at the end of the tunnel on Thursday as the government cancelled rules requiring vaccination certificates to enter restaurants and events as Omicron infections started to ebb.
Hotels and restaurants in Prague, a prime tourist destination, have suffered badly throughout the pandemic and now hope restrictions will not come back.
“The relaxation means guests can come without any restriction or persecution, that’s of course welcome… This has been long for everyone, not just us in gastronomy but the entire society,” said Tomas Lachman, a manager at Oblaca Restaurant at Prague’s TV tower, 66 metres above the city.
The Czech Republic is the latest European country to ease restrictions, as the government hopes the peak of the Omicron wave is over. Sweden lifted most restrictions on Wednesday.
The country of 10.7 million has suffered one of the world’s highest death tolls per capita with 37,660 victims to date. Daily infections peaked at 57,232 on Feb. 1, falling to 29,059 on Wednesday.
Enforcement of the vaccination certificate requirement has been weak and many pubs did not require guests to show them. Some actively refused to follow the rules.
“We were in a perverse situation where those who followed the rules suffered while those who didn’t give a damn and even declared it openly were making money,” said Tomas Prouza, head of a lobby group for commerce and tourism, welcoming the end of the system.
“The numbers are going down, hospitals are not full, this is a time when we have to start living normally.”
The number of people in hospital has still been going up, to 3,784 on Tuesday, but is far below peaks of over 9,000 in March last year. The number of patients in serious condition was at just over 10% of the peak.
The government maintained a mask mandate indoors and on public transport, as well as limits to the size of audiences at culture and sports events.
Mandatory regular testing at schools and workplaces will end on Feb 18.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Wednesday that most remaining restrictions would be lifted from March.
Katerina Joklova, general manager at Vienna House Andel’s Prague Hotel, said it had an occupancy rate of 10-15% and any relaxation was welcome.
“It is certainly a light at the end of the tunnel, a sign that we are getting back to normal life.”
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel, writng by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Nick Macfie)