Czech health workers face threats and harassment as they battle Covid

While epidemiological data from the past week suggest that the “fifth wave” of the coronavirus epidemic in the Czech Republic may have started to lose steam, the country’s health workers remain under pressure, facing not just an intense workload but also harassment from deniers and anti-vaxxers.

Anti-vaxxer Patrik Tusl approaches the house of microbiologist Václav Hořejší during the night; he rings the bell and asks for the real data on the pandemic. The incident is then posted on Tusl’s Facebook account where he has 8,000 followers. He asks them to donate money in order to help him “reveal the truth about the pandemic”.

The video is one of many that have been posted in recent weeks and follows a pattern of verbal abuse and stalking directed at leading representatives of the Czech medical and scientific establishment. According to the head of the Czech Medical Chamber Milan Kubek, such harassment also includes phone calls, emailed death threats and even excrement placed into his letterbox.

Ordinary health workers have also been targeted. In a case last month that made headlines across the country, between 6 to 12 cars parked outside Kladno Hospital were vandalised, their tires cut and side view mirrors broken.

Vandalised cars outside Kladno Hospital | Photo: Czech Police

November also saw the regional units of the country’s epidemiological management system placed under severe administrative pressure after being flooded by thousands of requests for information from a protest group centred around the singer Daniel Landa, which believes that the public is being lied to through manipulated data.

The police say they have registered growing aggression against health authorities, health workers as well as politicians and have already begun criminal proceedings against individuals associated with the most publically known cases. On Tuesday, police spokesman Ondřej Moravčík told the daily Právo that leading public representatives of the so-called anti-vaxxers group are being investigated. Several of the harassment incidents recorded over the past weeks could be classified as threatening behaviour for which convicted perpetrators could receive up to three years in prison, he said.

The targeting of health workers has come at a time when the fifth wave of the coronavirus epidemic places renewed pressure on Czech hospitals. ICU bed capacity is below 30 percent as of Tuesday, with four fifths of the country’s total lung ventilation units currently occupied.

However, epidemiological data for the past week and a half suggests that the intensity of the fifth wave may have started to stagnate.  The number of cases registered in the Czech Republic last week was down by 11 percent compared with the preceding seven days and daily vaccination rates have picked up pace, reaching almost a 100,000 doses applied per day at the end of last week.

Nevertheless, with more than 285,000 active coronavirus cases currently in the Czech Republic, hospitals are likely to remain under severe strain at least for several more weeks.