Coronavirus: stricter facemask rules coming as Czech legislators rush to adopt special Pandemic Law

Photo: Jernej Furman, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Due to the worsening coronavirus situation, as of Thursday new protective facemask rules go into effect, as parliament rushes to adopt a special Pandemic Law. The government is also looking to implement mandatory testing in workplaces and planning for the partial return of children to schools – as early as March 1, if antigen testing is in place.

As of Thursday, throughout the Czech Republic, it will be mandatory to wear a FFP2 or KN95 high-grade respirator when in public indoor spaces. That includes while using public transport, and waiting at stops and stations. If the high-grade facial protection is unavailable, adults can wear two surgical facemasks at once. Children of up to 15 years of age are not required wear such respirators, as smaller ones that fit are largely unavailable.

Also on Thursday, homemade cloth masks, including bandanas and the like, are officially deemed insufficient to protect other people in close proximity – even while outdoors – and will be forbidden entirely as of March. Aware that some people are using homemade facemasks to save money, or reusing surgical masks and the like, the government has announced plans to distribute millions of FFP2 through food banks.

Jan Hamáček,  photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

Minister of the interior Jan Hamáček (Social Democrats), who heads the national coronavirus taskforce, said discussions are ongoing regarding logistical aspects of mandatory testing. But the government is committed to open schools partially in the near future.

“The first topic under discussion was how to fulfil our promise, to make it our priority, to return elementary and secondary school students to the classrooms. There are two conditions – that there are enough antigen tests, and that the so-called Pandemic Law is in effect.”

The opposition parties agreed last week on a draft Pandemic Law so as not to have to debate the extension of each state of emergency measures. But the Constitutional Court ruled that it had not been properly reasoned, as one judge, Vojtěch Šimíček, explained on Monday.

“According to legal provisions, it is not possible to prohibit everything across the board and without justification, and then retrospectively exempt certain affected areas again by means of an exception regulation, whereby this is again not justified.”

The Senate is therefore expected to send the Pandemic Law back to the lower house this week. MPs will need to amended the legislation and pass it at an irregular session this Friday, to avoid a legal gap – the interim two-week state of emergency, called by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš at the request of regional governors, expires on Sunday.

About one in six coronavirus patients requires treatment in intensive care units. On average, about 85 percent of beds in Czech ICU wards are full. The situation is especially dire in two areas of Bohemia: the Karlovy Vary region, bordering Germany, and two districts of the Hradec Králové region bordering Poland.