Emotions running high in Czech Republic as epidemic worsens

Protest on Old Town Square, Prague, January 10, 2021, photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

As the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic deepens, emotions are running high in the Czech Republic. While several thousand people demonstrated against the government restrictions on Prague’s Old Town Square on Sunday, some members of the opposition called on the government to seek foreign aid in helping to cope with the influx of patients in Czech hospitals.

Some 3,000 protesters gathered on Old Town Square on Sunday calling for an end to what they describe as “Covid terror” and urging civil disobedience once the state of emergency in the country ends on January 22. Entrepreneurs, whose businesses are suffering, claim that the government’s anti-Covid measures are doing more harm than good and the epidemic should be let to run its course.

Photo: ČTK/Slavomír Kubeš

Meanwhile, many Czech hospitals say their capacities are stretched to the limit, both due to a lack of staff and a growing number of hospitalizations. The head of the hospital in Cheb complained on Friday that his staff were having to perform triage, resulting in a scramble to relocate eight patients in critical condition. The country currently has one of the highest infection rates in the world and the number of vacant beds in intensive care units is fast dwindling – the Liberec region has 3, Karlovy Vary 2 and the Plzen region just one last vacancy. Marian Jurečka from the Christian Democrats called on the government to seek help in neighbouring states.

“The government should be talking to its foreign partners to try and arrange the potential admission of Czech patients in neighbour states, to secure quality care for them, in the event of pressing need.”

The Pirate Party has also been ringing alarm bells about the situation in Cheb and elsewhere where IC units are quickly filling up.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Health Minister Jan Blatný on Sunday moved to allay fears that the situation was spiralling out of control, saying there was no need, at the present time, to ask for help. They said that while the circumstanced were extremely difficult in some regions, others still had vacant beds to offer –and patients were being relocated via a central data base. Altogether there are still 190 beds in intensive care units around the country and 600 beds for Covid patients who are not critical. Minister Blatný said that even if they filled up in the coming days, the country could still rely on the field hospitals set up in Prague and Brno which are currently not being used.

Jan Blatný,  photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

“The moment we get word from the central database that more beds are needed we will open up the field hospitals. The military can operate around 50 beds at the Letnany field hospital at short notice, but its overall capacity is 500 beds. If it should prove necessary we would have to find additional staff.”

Hospital staff around the country has been depleted by the Covid pandemic –both due to infections and quarantines and the government is pushing ahead with vaccinations. Those on the front lines are first in line and about 40,000 people, mainly doctors and nurses, have already received the first dose of a vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. Under the government’s strategy, close to 180,000 people should be inoculated in January, mainly frontline medical workers, the elderly and infirmed. And while the government is not yet seeking foreign assistance in admitting Czech patients, it has asked Israel for  advice and know-how in how to best handle the vaccine campaign in order to move ahead as fast as possible.