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Czechs celebrate end of lockdown with giant dinner party in Prague

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Residents sit to dine on a 500 meter long table set on the medieval Charles Bridge  in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
Residents sit to dine on a 500 meter long table set on the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, Tuesday, June 30, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Petr David Josek
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Hundreds of people gathered on Prague's Charles Bridge on Tuesday to celebrate the end of the Czech Republic's coronavirus crisis with a group dinner along a gigantic table set up on the historic landmark.

The giant street party took place just hours before an obligation to wear a face mask in public was lifted across the country — except in Prague.

The EU member state of 10.7 million people has by now eased most of the anti-virus measures it introduced early on. The country has fared relatively well, registering fewer than 12,000 coronavirus cases and under 350 deaths. However, over one thousand infections have been recorded in the last week.

On the 14th-century bridge, merrymakers munched on snacks and sipped drinks they brought from home, sharing their fare with others at the table spanning 500 metres.

"Everyone had to do something to be here, bring food or a flower. The idea was for everyone to get involved," Prague cafe owner and event organiser Ondrej Kobza told AFP.

"We want to celebrate the end of the coronavirus crisis with people meeting up and showing they're no longer afraid to meet others. That they aren't afraid to accept a bite of a sandwich from someone."

"Society mustn't be afraid. Otherwise, we'll have an economic crisis, a depression and that will hit society harder than COVID-19," said Kobza.

The 41-year-old is known for having placed pianos in the streets of Prague, set up chess tables in a local square and made the roof of a palace accessible to the public.

Several improvised bands played and sang along the curvy table adorned with oxeye daisies and new friendships were sealed over a snack or a glass.

"I found the event on Facebook and thought it was interesting," said Galina Khomchenko-Krejcikova, a Russian Prague resident who came with a friend.

"I just finished a night shift so I didn't have time to prepare anything. But we brought some wine and snacks we found at home," she told AFP.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned earlier this week that the pandemic "is not even close to being over" and that it is "actually speeding up" in many countries.

COVID-19-related fatalities have doubled in just under two months, with 50,000 deaths recorded between June 19 and June 29, WHO said.

Globally, more than 511,000 people are now known to have died from the novel coronavirus, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. The US is the most severely-hit country with over 127,000 fatalities but Europe as a whole has been heavily bereaved as well.

The death toll in the European Union/EEA/UK area now stands at over 176,000, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

WHO's Europe office also warned last week that 30 of the region's 54 countries had seen increases in new cumulative cases and that a "significant resurgence" was observed in 11 countries.

The Czech Republic has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases in recent days, with 1,244 new infections recorded in the past week alone, according to the UN agency.

Further restrictions to contain the spread of the virus in the eastern European country were lifted nationwide on Wednesday. Bars and restaurants are no longer limited in their opening hours and it is no longer mandatory to wear a face mask in public but local authorities can still impose their own measures.

Prague, for instance, extended the obligation to wear a face-covering in any situation where social distancing of at least two metres cannot be respected.