Czech state of emergency finally ends – so what now?

Photo: ČTK/Josef Vostárek

A state of emergency imposed to combat alarming Covid numbers in the Czech Republic has ended after more than six months, replaced by a law on pandemics. In addition, children have returned to schools and pre-schools, a ban on travel between districts no longer applies and some other restrictions have also been lifted.

On Monday Czechs woke up for the first time since early October in a country that was not under a state of emergency. The legislation was initially for 30 days but was repeatedly extended.

Perhaps more immediately pertinent to many, a ban on movement between districts aimed at curbing a surge in Covid-19 numbers has also gone, as has a nighttime curfew.

Those hoping to see more of their friends, however, may be disappointed.

After initial information that up to 20 people would be allowed to gather outdoors and half that number inside, the new health minister, Petr Arenberger, announced that stricter limits would apply.

He says a maximum of two will be allowed to meet anywhere, citing in part the threat of a Brazilian mutation of the coronavirus.

However, some lawyers argue that the government has no legal grounds to bring in such a measure.

Constitutional law specialist Jan Wintr says that a new law on pandemics, created to replace rolling states of emergency, provides limited powers to regulate gatherings.

“The setting across-the-board of the number of acquaintances that may meet at something that is not an organised event is, in my view, not possible.”

Petr Arenberger,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

Minister Arenberger says the government’s own legal experts believe otherwise.

“We have consulted this with our lawyers, and even outside lawyers, and in the end we arrived at the view that it is possible to limit this. So we are convinced that it is completely within the law.”

However, if the cabinet rubberstamps this provision limiting meetings to two, legal challenges can be expected.

Otherwise, Monday has no doubt been a good day for many parents with grades one to five at elementary schools returning to classrooms on a week-on, week-off basis. The same goes for final year pre-school children. Kids will get antigen tests twice weekly.

Some shops have also raised their shutters, among them stationary stores and children’s clothing and footwear outlets. Farmers’ markets may also return.

Zoos and botanical gardens also reopened their outdoor areas on Monday, with visitors restricted to one-fifth of the usual number.

Photo: ČTK/Dalibor Glück

Nevertheless, most of the coronavirus provisions in place under the state of emergency, including the compulsory wearing of respirators, remain in force.

Further easing will no doubt be contingent on trends in Covid figures.

While the country is still doing terribly by international comparisons, newly confirmed infections in the Czech Republic are continuing to decline.

While still exceeding 5,000, the number hospitalised with the virus is now at its lowest since December.