“Up to 80 percent of infected in Czechia may have ‘British’ coronavirus mutation”, says mathematician

René Levínský, photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech Radio

The Czech Republic has lost the battle with the British mutation of the coronavirus, which may be present in up to 80 percent of those currently infected in the country, mathematician René Levínský, who is the director of the Czech Centre for Modeling Biological and Societal Processes (BISOP) told Czech Radio. The government, he says, has yet again been too slow in adopting appropriate countermeasures. Radical new restrictions are therefore necessary.

The coronavirus pandemic has been hitting the Czech Republic particularly hard over recent weeks. The country currently has the highest ratio of coronavirus cases (adjusted per population) out of all EU member states with a Covid-19 death ratio just behind Belgium and Slovakia.

Monday saw around 6,000 patients requiring hospitalisation, a stark contrast to Health Minister Jan Blatný’s hopeful statement a month ago that the number of hospitalised could fall below 3,000 by mid-February.

So what went wrong? According to the director of Czech Centre for Modeling Biological and Societal Processes, René Levínský, the problem lies in the slow reaction of the state to the far more infectious “British” mutation of the virus, which was first detected in Czechia at the beginning of the year.

“Think of it this way - we have two parallel epidemics running at the same time. The original mutation, for which our current measures are tailored, is more or less dying out. However, at the same time you have a dramatic growth in the British mutation. We are yet again a month behind with all our countermeasures.

Photo: ČTK/David Taneček

“We should have sequenced it, traced it and tried to delay the moment when that mutation becomes dominant. This did not happen. Now there is no longer any point in attempting to do that. According to data from the Diana Biotechnologies, the British mutation was present among 50 to 60 percent of those infected two weeks ago. Right now that number could be around 70 to 80 percent. We have lost the battle with the British mutation.”

The slow response means that optimistic plans such as the reopening of schools in March are increasingly unlikely and, despite indications that the public is experiencing restriction fatigue, even harsher measures could be put in place.

Mr. Levínský told Czech Radio that if restrictions remain as they are, the reproduction number is likely to rise further.

“I currently see two options. One would be a hard lockdown, but this is probably not possible to achieve politically. The other possibility is to heavily extend measures in our industry, which has kept on running throughout this whole period without any restrictions. Companies would be informed that if they do not enact testing, they will have to close, just as restaurants and other businesses have been forced to thus far.”

While the mathematician believes that a tougher approach is vital under current conditions, the constitutional court ruled on Monday that government restrictions have been discriminatory towards small businesses, which have had to remain closed for months.

Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlíček told news site Blesk.cz that he is currently looking into how that will impact restrictions. The Confederation of Commerce and Tourism, has since issued a statement asking the government to reimburse small businesses for their losses. It also states that shops should prepare to reopen within the next few days.