Coronavirus: Prague now on Belgian, German risky travel ‘red lists’

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Despite a sudden uptick in coronavirus cases nationwide, so far Prague is the only Czech region designated a “medium-risk” or “orange” zone under the national traffic light map system. Meanwhile, Germany has joined Belgium in placing Prague on its “red list” of risky travel destinations.

On Monday, the World Health Organization noted that only seven of 55 countries in Europe have registered higher growth in new Covid-19 cases than the Czech Republic had in the previous 14 days. Since them, the country has twice reported more than 1,100 new coronavirus cases in a day, matching the absolute numbers of Germany – which has a population some eight times greater.

According to Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch, the recent uptick stems from the return of large numbers of adults into the workplace following the summer holidays, and increased “social interaction” in general, not from the reopening of schools. Children under the age of 15, he notes, make up only seven percent of cases.

About one in five of new Czech cases this week was recorded in Prague, which saw its biggest one-day jump – 220 cases – since the start of the pandemic. The city’s chief hygienist, Zdeňka Jágrová, says behind the spike is the flouting of anti-coronavirus measures and recommendations, especially by younger people.

Zdeňka Jágrová, photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

“Unfortunately, the increase results mainly from people between the ages of 20 and 30, who seem to have forgotten about the recent rise in coronavirus cases, and that we must protect ourselves and simply cannot behave as we did before the pandemic.”

As of Thursday, with a few exceptions, it is again mandatory nationwide to wear facemasks inside public buildings of all types, as well as on public transport, in taxis, and at the airport as previously mandated. Businesses, including restaurants and bars, will remain open, and patrons, of course, will not have to wear facemasks while eating or drinking.

But in Prague, restaurants and bars will now have to close from midnight until six in the morning. And city councillors, in coordination with health officials, are drafting other anti-coronavirus measures. Chief hygienist Zdeňka Jágrová argues that there should be few exceptions, so people get accustomed to taking greater precaution.

“The rules must be truly straightforward, so that when entering any store or public space, people understand that they must wear a facemask and don’t have to think about whether the space falls into one category, such as for restaurants, or another.”

Meanwhile, public health stations in Prague have struggled to cope with the onslaught of new cases and have had to recruit reinforcements from the ranks of army medics and – remotely – hygiene officials in other regions.

As for the Czech capital’s new “red list” designations, Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek has appealed to people traveling to Belgium and Germany to admit if they have been in Prague, and follow those countries requirements they submit a negative Covid-19 test result – or go into quarantine. Otherwise, he cautions, the measures could be extended to the entire Czech Republic.