Lithuania has become one of the first countries in emerging Europe to begin the process of gradually exiting from coronavirus lockdown, and has this week started opening cafes: under very strict conditions.
Seating is allowed only outdoors, and venues must ensure that clients seated at different tables are at least two metres apart.
Moreover, only two people are allowed to sit at one table, unless they are members of the same family. Customers are required to wear facemasks, except when they are eating or drinking. When queuing at a counter, customers must stand at least one metre apart.
Bar, café and restaurant owners must also ensure that their tables are put at least one metre from public pathways, entrances to buildings and windows.
In the capital Vilnius, which has experienced a gastronomic boom in recent years, the strict safety requirements, combined with the narrow streets of Vilnius’ UNESCO-listed Old Town – which can often only host a couple of tables per establishment – have made restaurant, café and bar owners pessimistic about the prospects of reopening.
However, the city council has responded with a support package, and for the first time will open up plazas, squares, and streets – otherwise off-limits – to allow businesses to conduct their activities during the quarantine.
“Just open up, work, retain jobs and keep Vilnius alive,” said the mayor. “Of course, the top priority remains safety for all,” he added.
Vilnius’ public spaces – which until now have rarely been used for outdoor eating, such as the city‘s iconic Cathedral Square – are now open to support the city’s restaurants going through difficult times. Currently, 18 public spaces have been made available, and more may be opened up in the near future.
The announcement was welcomed by both café owners and citizens of Vilnius, longing to return to their favourite cafés after weeks of lockdown.
“Vilnius’ offer to help our cafés and restaurants came just in time,” says Evada Šiškauskienė, head of the Lithuanian Association of Hotels and Restaurants. “This additional space will help them accommodate more visitors and bring life back to the city’s streets without violating security requirements.”
More than 160 cafés, bars and restaurants have already applied to use the city’s public spaces for outdoor seating. Vilnius City Council is also sponsoring a project through which restaurants, cafés and bars are invited to sell vouchers for future services.
Czechia has also announced plans to reopen the outdoor garden areas of restaurants, from May 25.
Photo by Saulius Žiūra
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