Chamber of Deputies votes on controversial amendment to Pandemic Law

Protestors demonstrate against a new amendment to the country’s Pandemic Law

A controversial amendment to the Czech Republic’s Pandemic Law, which would broaden the government’s ability to enforce restrictions, is being discussed in the Chamber of Deputies. While the ruling coalition claims it is a necessary step that would avoid the need to call a state of emergency, opposition politicians and some members of the public have criticized what they see as an unnecessary extension of executive powers.

Seven gallows could be seen in front of the Chamber of Deputies in Prague on Tuesday, set up symbolically by protestors demonstrating against a new amendment to the country’s Pandemic Law that lower-house MPs are discussing.

The amendment would give the government several new powers, including the ability to order Covid-19 testing for entrepreneurs, students, pupils and pre-schoolers, not just for employees, or to issue measures concerning the limitations of outdoor sport activities. The Ministries of Interior and Defence would also be able to issue coronavirus measures directly for their own staff.

Protestors demonstrate against a new amendment to the country’s Pandemic Law | Photo: Michaela Říhová,  ČTK

Prime Minister Petr Fiala told Czech Radio that the amendment would extend the Pandemic Law until the end of 2022 and is a necessary extension of executive powers that would avoid the need for the government to go through the process of having to ask Parliament for a state of emergency ahead of every new Covid-19 wave.

“The Pandemic Law allows us to be ready in case a more dangerous variant of the coronavirus were to appear. It doesn't mean that we will necessarily use the powers it includes. I hope that we will not have to use it from March onwards.”

The amendment has met with strong criticism from some members of the public and the opposition. Strong reservations have been voiced against one of its parts which would make it possible for the government to order people to go into quarantine via text message, something that opposition ANO Party deputies have warned could be abused by anonymous pranksters and set a potentially dangerous precedent.

Lawyers are also split on the amendment. Ondřej Dostál, who specializes in health legislation, said that it would be a major infringement on personal freedoms.

Protestors demonstrate against a new amendment to the country’s Pandemic Law | Photo: Michaela Říhová,  ČTK

“There is no certainty that the order would even be delivered successfully and the amendment also doesn’t include anything about reimbursing possible financial losses that such measures could result in.”

Meanwhile, Petr Bezouška, a member of the government’s Legislative Council, argues that the amendment summarizes the powers necessary for the government to control the pandemic.

“The government is trying its best to react to the experiences that it has gained through applying the Pandemic Law and wants to make it more efficient. The Chamber of Deputies can always remove these powers from the government simply by voting that the country is no longer in the state of a pandemic.”

Due to the majority that the government has in the lower-house, it is likely that the amendment will be passed. However, opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy MPs have vowed to obstruct its passing for as long as possible.