Czech authorities poised to reinstate preventive measures as COVID -19 cases rise

Photo: ČTK/Jaroslav Ožana

The number of people fighting coronavirus infection in the Czech Republic crossed the 5,000 mark on Wednesday –the highest number recorded since COVID -19 first appeared in the country in March. Although the increase is driven by a number of local outbreaks the authorities are considering reinstating nation-wide preventive measures –such as bringing back compulsory face masks in enclosed spaces.

When facemasks came off at the beginning of June, after three months of rigid preventive measures, it seemed like the COVID-19 epidemic had been beaten. Now the numbers are climbing back up again, raising concerns of a possible second wave sooner than anyone anticipated. Health Minister Adam Vojtěch says a decision regarding preventive measures will be announced within hours and should come into force on Monday.

“The increase in numbers is certainly there – that is indisputable. So we are consulting the situation with epidemiologists. It may be that we will need to bring back some nation-wide restrictions, like compulsory masks in enclosed spaces. Nothing on the scale that was previously introduced –we are not thinking of restricting freedom of movement or closing down businesses – nothing that would disrupt people’s lives –just preventive measures.”

Adam Vojtěch,  photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

Some regions with local outbreaks have already re-introduced preventive measures. Facemasks are back in the Moravia-Silesia region where the number of infected persons in the Karvina district reached 60 per 100,000 inhabitants this week.  In the Liberec region, which has 24 infected per 100,000 inhabitants, they will come into force starting Friday.

Epidemiologists say the renewed spread of the virus in recent weeks is due to the fact that after rigidly observing the enforced restrictions during the first wave of the epidemic many Czechs have thrown caution to the wind and are once again socializing as if the coronavirus was no longer a threat.  A case in point is that of 98 persons infected at a party in a Prague night club in the course of just one evening. 270 people have been put in quarantine as a result. Epidemiologists warn that events in crowded indoor spaces such as this present a serious risk.

Consequently, the preventive measures likely to be reintroduced nationwide are compulsory masks in indoor spaces and restrictions on the number of people gathered in one place.

According to data released by the Health Ministry the Czech Republic currently has 19.8 cases of COVID -19 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is significantly more than neighbouring Slovakia which has 7.5, Austria with 9.4, or Germany with 4.9.

One positive aspect is the fact that compared to the spring, the vast majority of people who have been confirmed COVID -19 positive in the Czech Republic have a light form of the disease with few or no symptoms. While at the peak of the epidemic in April there were 440 people hospitalized with COVID 19, currently there are just 150, of whom 20 are in serious condition.

Epidemiologists say simple preventive measures such as masks, frequent hand-washing and well-aired rooms all increase the chance of people getting a lower doze of the infection with fewer complications as a result.