Czech government scraps plan for mandatory vaccination

As Covid numbers continue to rise steeply, the Fiala government announced on Wednesday that it would invalidate the former government’s directive on mandatory vaccination for selected groups. The move confirms its resolve to pursue an anti-Covid strategy based on trust and goodwill.

Similarly as elsewhere in the world, emotions have been running high in the Czech Republic on the issue of compulsory vaccination. Thousands took to the streets to protest against the directive approved by the former government according to which vaccination was to have been compulsory for people over 60 and those in high-risk professions, such as medical workers, police officers and firefighters as of March this year. Under growing pressure to make its stand on the issue public, the government announced its decision almost three weeks ahead of the promised date. Prime Minister Petr Fiala said it was important for people to know where they stand.

“The government has decided not to enforce mandatory vaccination. We still consider vaccination to be the best weapon in the fight against Covid-19 and we strongly recommend that people get vaccinated in order to protect themselves and others. However we do not want to deepen the divisions in society by enforcing this. Moreover the percentage of vaccinations among high risk groups, whom it would concern, is already very high. So the conclusion was: no mandatory vaccinations.”

Petr Fiala | Photo: Michal Kamaryt,  ČTK

The decision, which was originally to have been announced in mid-February, was clearly intended to ease tensions over an issue that has caused rifts in families and companies. The prime minister was at pains to stress that the decision did not mean that the government no longer believed in vaccinations as an effective means of fighting the pandemic, urging Czechs to get their primary vaccination as well as a booster shot and saying the government planned to make booster shots available for children over the age of 12 soon.

At present 63 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid 19, and in the over 60 age group it is 80 percent. Among people in high-risk professions the inoculation rate is between 85 and 90 percent.

As the Omicron wave gathers strength, the government has ordered twice-weekly testing in companies and once a week in schools in order to curb the speed with which the infection will pass through the population. The daily increase in cases reached 30,000 on Wednesday, but according to the head of the Institute for Health Information and Statistics Ladislav Dušek the actual number of infected is likely to be at around 100,000 a day.

Although the government has shortened the quarantine period to five days to prevent the state from collapsing, the lack of employees in different sectors is already making itself felt. For the time being it is most notable in the area of public transport where city and inter-city transport authorities say they lack drivers and have had to lengthen intervals and cancel some connections.

Schools are also having problems and have been struggling with hybrid-learning as the number of pupils in classes dwindles. For this reason the government on Wednesday gave school principals the right to declare 10 days of extra holiday time should the need arise.

The Omicron wave is expected to peak at the end of January, and the prime minister said that the measures in place would most likely last until mid-February. Round about that time, the government is expected to announce a timetable for the gradual phasing out of the Covid restrictions.