Do Czechs feel threatened by chemical warfare?
In light of the current international situation, top politicians have been calling on Czechs not to panic, and it seems that the general public is, for once at least, acting on their recommendations. Life goes on as usual, with some exceptions. The sale of bottled water has soared and some people have started searching for gas masks. It does appear that if Czechs are worried about one thing, then it's about the threat of a possible biological attack. But does the threat really exist? Olga Szantova takes a look.
The cabinet has discussed the possible threat of biological warfare, and has advised the ministry of health to organize special courses for doctors and medical staff. Most Czech doctors have never treated patients suffering from the plague, antrax, botulism or smallpox.
Should one of these diseases suddenly appear, they must be ready to recognize it immediately and to treat it efficiently. The Czech doctors' organization has announced it is able to organize courses, and the pediatricians' union has made a similar pronouncement. But what about the health ministry? I asked its spokesman Ota Cerny, how the ministry was coping with the problem.
"There's far too much fuss around the whole thing. Doctors who have graduated recently still remember what they learned and as for the older ones, it's the ambition of every doctor to treat his patient well, so they will have to catch up and do some studying on their own, or participate in some courses."
Mr. Cerny would not say what kind of courses these would be, nor when they would start. Neither was he prepared to give a date by which the ministry would have made the necessary decisions.
The health ministry is not taking any other special precautions as it says that no special measures are called for.
"Public health officers are doing their job as usual, no special tests of tap water are being conducted, because they are not needed. The Czech Republic is not stocking up with any special kinds of medicine, the supplies currently available are sufficient, unless of course, there is a biological attack involving the whole population, but in a case like that the whole world would be short of medicine."
The ministry is not planning to run an information campaign to let the public know about the possible health threats - it would be, it says, simply unnecessary. And, the health ministry's spokesman stressed that panic buying was not called for.
"All these steps are unnecessary. There's no need to stock up on bottled water or to buy gas masks. The government has assured our citizens that there is no imminent threat, and it is right. At this time, the Czech Republic is not at the forefront of terrorist interests."