Czechia brings back state of emergency to help tackle coronavirus second wave

Roman Prymula, photo: ČTK/Michal Kamaryt

The Czech Republic entered a 30-day state of emergency as of Monday in response to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The higher level of alertness not only gives the government more powers, but is also accompanied by the activation of new measures ranging from the closure of high schools in high risk areas, to the limitation of shared seating in restaurants.

September was by far the worst month for the Czech Republic in terms of the fight against COVID-19. The country which had managed to tackle the first, spring, wave of the disease with relative success, saw its overall death toll rise by more than 50 percent, with the number of infected nearly quintupling in the 30-day period.

In response, the Health Ministry has been enacting several waves of measures to curb the spread of the virus. The latest to come into effect at midnight from Sunday to Monday was the state of emergency, a move that grants the government increased powers to enact crisis measures which was used already once before during the spring outbreak.

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

A new series of measures accompanying the introduction of the state of emergency includes distance learning for high school students, a cap of no more than 10 people allowed to attend indoor events and a maximum of 20 able to attend those that take place outdoors.

Exceptions are in place for members of a single family, work colleagues, businesses and certain state institution such as courts.

Shared seating in restaurants is limited to six people or less. Theatres and cinemas can still house guests of up to 500 people, with only snack breaks being banned.

However, Health Minister Roman Prymula had bad news for music fans when he explained the Monday measures last week.

“Any sort of collective singing, operas, musicals will be banned for the next 14 days. The reason is that many choirs have gotten infected. Singing is one of the most high risk activities. We know that the virus spreads especially well when people are singing.”

No less than 60 further measures are being considered according to the health minister. Several opposition leaders have criticised the ad-hoc style of government measures, which lack sufficient explanation.

In response, Mr. Prymula said that he has only been health minister for two weeks and that it was impossible to come out with a systemic plan immediately. Nevertheless, speaking on Sunday at a Czech Television debate programme, he promised to do so next Friday.

“We will present our plan for a long-term system of measures aimed at preventing sudden rises in infections and subsequent immediate changes to what is allowed and not.”

The health minister said that future measures could include the closure of secondary schools, or a change in the parameters of distinguishing between low and high risk regions in the country. The latter, because he fears the whole country may soon be designated as high risk if the current system of measurement is kept in place.