Czech officials, scientists make desperate appeal for discipline as Covid-19 numbers soar

Roman Prymula, photo: archive of Roman Prymula

Wednesday’s record daily increase in Covid-19 numbers ( at over 9,500) has heightened the urgency of appeals for people to take the coronavirus threat seriously. A group of scientists have published an appeal for people to minimize their contacts with others, while government officials have once again stressed that the exponential growth in Covid infections could soon  send the death toll soaring.

Health Minister Roman Prymula put a brief personal appeal on Twitter on Thursday morning emphatically urging people to stay at home. The health minister has repeatedly underlined the gravity of the situation, stemming from the exponential growth of the epidemic which has seen the government scrambling to secure more beds and reinforcements for hospitals as a growing number of doctors and nurses have tested positive.

A group of scientists, including epidemiologists and data specialists, are ringing alarm bells, urging the public to effect what they call “a personal lockdown”, use sanitizers and wear facemasks religiously and minimize their contacts with others to curb the spread of the virus which now threatens to kill thousands of people. The 500 people hospitalized in the past three days indicate that hospitals will soon be unable to meet the country’s needs, they point out.

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

In response to the latest figures, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has ordered the army to build a field hospital with a capacity for 500 patients at the Letnany fairground and is purchasing another 4,000 beds to help cope with the emergency. The Czech Medical Chamber has appealed to Czech doctors and nurses working abroad to come home and help the country in its time of need. Medical students and specialists will be expected to help out in hospitals and negotiations are underway with the country’s spas for them to take in less serious patients.

Despite the dire warnings and statistics that put the Czech Republic second on world scale in the speed with which the infection is spreading, and fourth on the world list reflecting the number of coronavirus deaths per capita, it seems that many Czechs are still underestimating the gravity of the situation.

As many as 27 percent of people surveyed said they were against compulsory face masks with many simply refusing to wear them. Proponents of the “anti-mask” movement give each other advice on social networks how to get around the obligation without getting fined.  Police have reported over 40,000 violations, and they only reflect a fraction of the real number.

Even people who wear masks are contributing to the spread of the disease by failing to regularly change their mask after several hours. Only 16 percent of Czechs surveyed said they played by the rules, while others admitted to wearing the same face mask or respirator for several days.

In the first wave of the epidemic, Czechs were often given as an example of how to tackle the crisis through solidarity and discipline. Today other countries are trying to avoid what they call “the Czech scenario”. Now Czechs are standing on the edge of a precipice and the message the government is urgently sending them is “We cannot win this battle without you”.