Deniers and antivaxxers undermining efforts to curb soaring Covid numbers in Czechia

As the Covid epidemic in the Czech Republic gathers force the outgoing government is scrambling to  try to curb the soaring numbers and protect the health system from  collapsing under the strain. In addition to the problem of a political change-of-guard in the midst of the fifth wave of the pandemic, the task of keeping the epidemic under control is further complicated by a large number of deniers and antivaxxers.

With just over 60 percent of the population inoculated against Covid, and the assumption that a large segment of the population had most likely undergone the infection without being aware of it, the government had been hoping to ride out the fifth wave of the pandemic without the need for a lock-down or excessively strict anti-Covid measures. However in the last couple of weeks Covid numbers have soared and some hospitals in Moravia have reached their capacity limit.

As ambulances started transferring patients from Moravia to Prague on Thursday, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš called an emergency cabinet meeting a day earlier than planned to take crisis action.

What is further complicating matters is that some people are not only refusing to get vaccinated, but often fail to respect the measures already in place. Like in other European capitals, public protests against the implemented restrictions have been growing.

Photo: Michal Krumphanzl,  ČTK

The most recent measure enforced, which has effectively banned people who are not vaccinated against Covid or have undergone the disease from public life, has raised a wave of discontent and resulted in some of these groups actively trying to contract the disease in order to get a Covid pass without vaccination.  “ I need to get Covid fast. Ready to pay” or “Are you Covid positive? Can we throw a Covid party?” – those are some of the messages appearing on social networks these days.

Others claim they are trying to help by contributing to herd immunity “I don’t wear a respirator on public transport, don’t use sanitizers, go everywhere and talk to everyone, including Covid positive people” some users write on Facebook. With people in their thirties now in intensive care doctors say this behavior amounts to playing Russian roulette.

In addition to individual protests, the authorities are struggling to counter protests from restaurant and pub owners who openly defy the measures in place. Some have put up notices reading

“This is a free pub, in a free country and we serve everyone. You are welcome with or without a Covid pass”.

According to the country’s leading business daily Hospodářské noviny there are over 1,000 restaurants and services – such as hairdressers and fitness studios - which refuse to adhere to the restrictions, advertising themselves as “free zones”. Lists of these places are shared by users on social networks and according to Hospodářské noviny their numbers grow by around fifty a day.

Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlíček has warned that entrepreneurs who do not respect the measures in place will not get financial compensation for the losses incurred. However, the warning has had little effect since it is common knowledge that in the midst of this crisis there are not enough inspectors and hygiene officers to check up on everyone.