Czech gov’t retools “smart quarantine” management, introduces “traffic light” risk map

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Following a recent uptick in coronavirus cases, the Czech government has agreed to establish a special body to oversee the “smart quarantine” initiative. That body will be under the direction of the Ministry of Health – which has been criticised for failing to implement an effective system – but also the Army. Meanwhile, the ministry will roll out a new “traffic light” system mapping infection rates by local district rather than region.

Ahead of Monday’s State Security Council meeting to discuss how oversight of the smart quarantine system would work – and details in this regard remain scarce as discussion continues – Minister of Interior Jan Hamáček appeared on CNN Prima News to explain why a new “traffic light” system was needed.

Jan Hamáček, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

Hamáček appeared on the programme opposite MP Jana Černochová, head of the lower house Defence Committee. He joked that he had rarely found himself in agreement with the opposition MP, who had this to say about the current smart quarantine system:

“I have the impression that when the smart quarantine was under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence, it worked. But at the moment it was taken over by the Ministry of Health, it stopped working. And not even the hygienists make use of the data they have…

“I hope Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch will be compelled to say: ‘We are managing’ or ‘We are not managing’. And if they are not, that it will be returned to the competency of the Ministry of Defence, which created the initial databases and but had no influence on how the system would function.”

The Ministry of Health took over the smart quarantine project on May 25 after the disbanding of the Central Crisis Staff, which included Army representatives. It will now be managed by a team led by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and epidemiologist Roman Prymula, along with six vice-chairpersons, including Hamáček and Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch.

Hamáček said on Monday that if the new system works he would no longer push for the restoration of that body. At the same time, he told CNN Prima News earlier he was concerned the Ministry of Health has failed to standardise guidelines and responses when it comes to coronavirus hot spots.

Photo: ČTK/Vojtěch Hájek

“I look forward to Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch presenting the government with a Czech ‘traffic light’, so that it is absolutely clear to all what to expect if a situation worsens. For me, among the biggest problems is people have no idea what the minister will do next.

“It must be clearly laid out: if there is a rise in a locality of a certain threshold, this will happen. That way, for example, organisers of cultural events can follow developments, cancel them in advance if need be, and not have to wait until the ministry suddenly blows the whistle, so to say.”

On Monday afternoon, Vojtěch presented such a coloured “traffic light” system, which ranks risks on four levels and sets out uniform responses thereto. The colours range from “white”, where there are no cases of Covid-19, to “green”, “orange” and “red” – a risk level the health minister said no Czech locality now has.

The ministry will publish its first traffic light such map on August 3, Vojtěch told reporters on Monday, after which it will be updated on a weekly basis. The risk assessment and adoption of measures would be the responsibility of regional hygienic stations. An “orange” light, for example, would trigger public health measures such as caps on attendance at events and require hospital beds be set aside for Covid-19 patients.