Czechs light nearly 30,000 candles to honor COVID-19 victims

PRAGUE (AP) — Czechs lit nearly 30,000 candles at Prague Castle, the seat of the presidency, on Monday evening to pay their respects to the pandemic’s victims.

The hard-hit European Union nation of 10.7 million people has registered at least 29,711 virus-related deaths.

After observing a minute of silence, President Milos Zeman was the first to light a candle. In his brief speech, he thanked the medical personnel and anyone who has been fighting the pandemic.

Zeman said some of those people died because “we succumbed to the temptation to ease (restrictive measures) prematurely.”

He said he hoped that Czechs had learned from it. His words came at the end of a day that saw the country massively relaxing its coronavirus restrictions.

The latest easing came after new infections fell to the levels last seen in August, at which time the government failed to react fast enough to a rising number of infections, which later contributed to a record number of deaths.

People in the capital of Prague formed lines Monday before opening time as all stores and shopping malls returned to business.

“It’s a relief that they are open,” said shopper Dan Cooper. “I think I have a long list of things that I need to buy now.”

In a visible change, Czechs were allowed to remove face masks in all outdoor spaces if they stayed at least two meters (6 feet) from other people.

Also reopening Monday were car dealerships, tanning salons, shooting ranges, travel agencies, shoe repairers, tattoo parlors and many other services.

Children returned to all elementary schools under strict conditions even in the hardest-hit regions. All have to wear face masks and be tested twice a week. They are also returning on a rotating basis, with in-school attendance one week and distance learning the next.

Schools in the seven of the country’s 14 regions, including Prague, will be able to abandon the rotating principle on May 17, the government announced Monday.

The relaxation of restrictions came as the daily number of new infections dropped from almost 17,000 in early March to 381 on Sunday, while the number of infected fell to 101 per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

But in some counties, the number of cases still surpassed 180 per 100,000 people, prompting experts to warn against dropping restrictions there.

“If the situation remains unfavorable in some counties and regions, the relaxation there should not be the same as in other parts of the country,” Petr Pazdiora, the head of the Institute of Epidemiology at the University Hospital in western city of Plzen, told Czech public radio.

The Czech Republic at one point topped the global per capital death toll table, due to a too-early relaxation of virus restrictions.

Also Monday, the government approved a plan to allow up 700 spectators to attend outdoor concerts and events, starting next week, and bars and restaurants will open for outdoor dining. People will be allowed to attend the events and go to bars and restaurants on condition they have been vaccinated, present a negative coronavirus test or recovered from COVID-19.

High schools and universities in the Czech Republish still remained closed.


Adam Pemble contributed to this report.


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