Deputy health minister: We need to gain time and phase-out the epidemic

Photo: ČTK/AP/Joeal Calupitan

The most frequent question being asked these days in connection with the coronavirus epidemic is how long can it last. The Slovak daily Denik N on Thursday published a prognosis compiled by the country’s Institute for Health Policy which lists three possible scenarios, the most likely of which sees the epidemic peaking in 110 days. What is the situation in the Czech Republic and why have Czechs not seen a similar prognosis?

Photo: ČTK/AP/Joeal Calupitan
In a worst case scenario – assuming no measures were taken – 45 percent of the country, or 2.4 million Slovaks would be infected with the coronavirus. Under the present circumstances, with the closure of borders, schools and restaurants, the prediction is that 10 percent of the population, roughly half a million people, will be infected. The third model is a total quarantine, which is unlikely to be imposed. Under the first case scenario, the epidemic would peak at the end of April with a huge number of infected people which the Slovak health system would be unable to handle. For that reason the authorities are taking measures to curb the spread of the epidemic, prolong it and thus phase it out so as to have enough facilities and health workers to provide intensive care for those who will need it. Under the second, most likely scenario, the epidemic should peak in approximately 110 days.

The Czech authorities have not published a similar prognosis, but their arguments have been the same –the need to phase-out the epidemic as much as possible so as to avoid the Italian scenario. In an interview for Czech Radio Deputy Health Minister Alena Šteflová said the Czech government was working with a similar mathematical model.

“We are working with a similar analysis, with different predictions depending on different factors and measures taken. They basically reflect the course of the epidemic in other countries where it hit earlier, but you need to take into account demographics in the given population and so on. I think it is very important to have these prognosis models, but I do not think it is necessary to publish them. They are important because they give the government time to prepare for the emergency, secure enough facilities and equipment for intensive care and work out a crisis plan. So yes, we do have these models and are working with them.”

Alena Šteflová,  photo: Michael Erhart / Czech Radio
The Health Ministry is aiming for 3,200 beds with ventilators in intensive care units with the respective number of medical staff to attend to them. It is now scrambling to secure more ventilators and negotiating with hospitals regarding the need to extend their capacity for coronavirus patients in separate wards. Deputy Health Minister Alena Šteflová again:

"We are expecting the epidemic to peak in about four weeks, but there are different factors that may come into play, like the Czechs who are yet to return home from abroad and who may change the picture slightly, or how effective the measures will be depending on the behaviour of the population. But even after it peaks, there is no guarantee there will not be a second or third wave. If you look at the Spanish flu one hundred years ago it was the unexpected third wave that turned out to be the most devastating. But I don’t want to scaremonger. Much has changed since then and I trust the measures we have taken will bring results.”