Dismay and calls for aid as some Czech businesses closed and pub times curtailed

PRAGUE, Oct 12 (Reuters) – Czech businesses, arts establishments and sports facilities called for state support on Monday, after new restrictions aimed at curbing one of the world’s sharpest spikes in COVID-19 cases were expected to cause further financial pain.

The government has ordered theatres, cinemas and sport and fitness centres to close. Restaurants and pubs, an important part of life in the world’s most beer-thirsty nation, must shut by 8 p.m.

The new measures came as a surprise to some, as the government had pledged not to bring back blanket restrictions.

“From one minute to the next we are out of business, instructors and coaches are out of work, clients are angry,” said Ondrej Kokta, a manager at the Euforie fitness club in Prague.

Some clients said they were confused by the logic of the restrictions coming into force.

“I am angry because there is no public data to show how many people get infected at fitness centres, swimming pools; it is not based on data,” said Tomas Hana, a club customer.

Among businesses affected was Prague Zoo, which had already lost 45 million crowns ($1.95 million) in lost ticket sales during a lockdown in the spring.

“Closing means just that visitors are not inside. Zookeepers are still caring for the animals, everything runs as normal,” said spokeswoman Lucie Dosedelova.

The Chamber of Commerce called on the government to extend or restart aid programmes to businesses that have been hit, including an extension to a debt payment moratorium.

The Health Ministry reported 59,920 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday morning. A daily record of 8,615 new cases was reported on Friday.

A near-doubling in hospitalisations over the past week to 2,106 has already forced some hospitals to reduce non-urgent care and re-purpose beds for COVID-19 patients in preparation for a further rise.

But there has been broader public pushback against restrictions than in the spring, with many criticising the government’s response as being bungled or unnecessary.

“We’re in luck (that) the coronavirus only goes around after 8 p.m.,” said Tereza Hromadkova, a customer at downtown Prague pub U Rarasku. “If it went around all day, we could not get to the pub at all.”

Prime Minister Andrej Babis has repeatedly called on people to respect the rules. The government was expected to announce more restrictions later Monday. ($1 = 23.0460 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Jiri Skacel; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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