Czech government to intensify testing as Delta spreads in Europe

As Europe braces for a wave of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, the Czech Republic is racing against time to inoculate as large a segment of the population as possible before its inevitable spread in the country. The list of no-go states is quickly growing and the government is preparing to tighten the rules for people returning from foreign holidays.

Although hygiene officers have so far only confirmed 120 cases of the highly contagious Delta variant, experts are ringing alarm bells and warning that in Britain it only took two months for the Indian variant to spread around the country. Moreover with the start of the holiday season its spread is expected to be much faster. EU health officials predict the Delta mutation will account for 90% of the bloc's cases by late August.

Andrej Babiš | Photo: Office of Czech Government

„The pandemic is not over. The data from Prague do not look good. We must keep fighting, we must push ahead with inoculation and protect ourselves from new mutations“ Prime Minister Andrej Babiš warned.

He said he was calling a special government session on Thursday to debate steps which would at least stall the spread of Delta and buy time for more vaccinations.

Given how contagious Delta is, the situation is not rosy. At present only 28 percent of Czechs are fully vaccinated, about half of the population have at least one Covid vaccine. However tests have shown that with the Delta variant one vaccine alone does not afford proper protection. A single dose of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine only affords 33%protection against the Delta mutation, while it is 79 percent effective against the British variant which has been dominant in the country. Those who have undergone Covid would have undergone the British variant and would not be immune to Delta.

For this reason Health Minister Adam Vojtěch wants to backtrack on the recently introduced policy that a single vaccine is considered sufficient protection for people not to have to produce negative PCR tests or quarantine. He is proposing that people returning from abroad or even a vacation at home will have to produce a negative PCR test at their workplace. Those returning from high-risk destinations would have to quarantine.

Illustrative photo: Anna Shvets,  Pexels

If the proposal is approved, which in view of the situation is highly likely, the country would go back to testing all unvaccinated people and people with only one shot as of next week. This would significantly increase the number of tests performed since they are necessary for admission to most public venues such as restaurants, cinemas, hairdressers and sports facilities.

The Health Ministry has moreover extended the list of no-go states. The list of extremely risky countries includes almost twenty states –among them India, Brazil or South Africa. As of July 1 it will include Russia, Paraguay and Namibia, and as of next week the ban will apply to Tunisia. The government is also seriously considering extending the ban to Egypt, one of the favourite summer destinations for Czech tourists. The Health Ministry has also appealed to football fans not to travel to Azerbaijan for the quarterfinals game between the Czech Republic and Denmark.