Thousands of protesters gathered in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, to protest new COVID-19 restrictions aimed at combatting the spread of the new omicron variant. Among other things, the Czech government banned the popular Christmas markets and any public consumption of alcohol, such as mulled wine, which Czechs and visitors often drink at such markets.
“The government’s decision to abolish the outdoor Christmas markets literally from day to day is outrageous for all market operators and the stallholders themselves, who often bought the goods on credit,” Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib said on Facebook, according to a translation from expats.cz. “It’s unbelievable that the stalls were built and now must be torn down again. The government must pay adequate financial compensation to all stallholders.”
The Czech government mandated Thursday that Christmas markets – which had only just opened – shut down at 6 p.m. on Friday. It also banned the consumption of alcohol in public, clamping down on a popular activity at the markets, the consumption of mulled wine and grilled sausages. Vendors can still sell Christmas trees and fresh carp on the street, and markets that stay open all year can remain open, as well, although food and drink purchased there cannot be consumed on the spot.
The government declared a 30-day state of emergency, closing the Christmas markets and mandating that bars, restaurants, nightclubs, discotheques, and casinos close at 10 p.m.
Thousands took to the streets in Prague to protest the new restrictions, marking the third protest in the last two weeks. According to the Associated Press, participants did not wear face coverings or follow social distancing rules. They also drank beer in public, in violation of the ban.
Protesters chanted “Freedom!” and “We’ve had enough!” while holding banners expressing opposition to vaccine mandates, such as “My body my choice.”
Police reportedly declined to intervene.
Market organizing company Taiko also condemned the decision to close the markets.
“We are shocked and we are desperate,” Taiko spokeswoman Hana Tietze told Pražská Drbna. “We are surprised that the department stores will remain open, but the markets outside will close.”
“We have year-round costs for storage and repairs of stalls. We’ve hired some employees, so we’ll call for compensation,” Tietze added.
The country has set repeated records in new daily infections, hitting a record high of almost 28,000 cases on Thursday. The infection rate was at 1,191 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days. Overall, the nation of 10.7 million has registered over 2.1 million cases with 32,837 COVID-related deaths. It has lower vaccination rates than many other EU nations.
Other new restrictions limit the number of spectators at cultural and sports events to 1,000 people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, or only 100 visitors, down from 1,000.