The Czech Health Ministry has announced a plan for relaxing pandemic-related restrictions, such as vaccine passports, in light of recent data. Starting February 9, it will no longer be necessary to prove COVID-19 vaccination or recent recovery from the virus to enter sports, cultural and other events or to access other services in the country.
The Czech Supreme Administrative Court also canceled the vaccine passport requirement for restaurants, clubs, hotels and casinos in a recent ruling on the grounds that measures cannot seek to indirectly force citizens to be vaccinated.
People will still be required to wear masks in indoor public areas, however, and limits on the number of people who attend mass events will remain in place.
In the announcement, Health Minister Vlastimil Valek said: “I said I would announce relaxing of measures in early March at the latest and finally we concluded together with experts that we can do it much sooner in a gradual regime. The first step is the canceling of certificates, another one is the end of blanket testing.”
Blanket testing at schools and businesses will come to an end on February 18. Since January 17, children in the country’s primary and secondary schools have been required to undergo COVID-19 testing once a week; prior to that, they were required to be tested twice a week. Employers were required to have their employees use antigen self-tests twice a week.
The Czech government is also officially scrapping a controversial decree that made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for certain professionals and people over the age of 60 in hopes of avoiding “deepening fissures” among society.
The country’s previous government had ordered vaccines to be required starting in March for hospital and nursing home staff, soldiers, police and other professions, along with people over the age of 60, in a move that spurred massive protests.
In a news conference, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said: “This does not change our stance on vaccination. It is still undoubtedly the best way to fight Covid-19 … however, we do not want to deepen fissures in society.”
Other European countries easing restrictions
The Czech Republic isn’t the only European country easing restrictions right now. France, which was known for having some of the strictest measures earlier in the pandemic, has started to lift some restrictions despite a high number of infections. Masks will no longer be required outdoors, while cultural venues and stadiums will no longer have limits on their capacity.
However, French citizens will still need proof of vaccination or recovery to access long-distance public transport, bars and restaurants. Nightclubs are set to reopen on February 16.
Denmark has also announced it will be scrapping most of its pandemic restrictions on the grounds that COVID-19 is no longer a “socially critical disease.” Despite high case numbers, the number of people in intensive care is dropping and overall vaccination rates there are high.
Sweden, meanwhile, will be removing coronavirus restrictions beginning on February 9. There will no longer be limits on restaurants’ opening hours and capacities, and vaccine passports and masks will no longer be required on public transport.
The moves come as the World Health Organization stated Europe is entering a “plausible endgame” to the pandemic as deaths plateau in light of the lower severity of Omicron and warmer weather slowing the spread of the virus.
“This context – that we have not experienced so far in this pandemic – leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility and a much higher level of population defence against any re-surge in transmission, even with a more virulent variant,” WHO Europe Director Dr. Hans Kluge stated.