Experts advising caution amid indications of Delta community spread in Czechia

With a steady decline in coronavirus cases in the past few months, the government has speeded up the easing of measures, with life almost back to normal in the Czech Republic. However, with the looming threat of the Indian mutation in Europe and indications of Delta community transmissions in some parts of the country, experts are urging caution.

After the seemingly endless months of lockdown, life in the Czech Republic is almost back to normal. Shops, restaurants and sports facilities have reopened –albeit with safety precautions – and the country is opening its borders to tourists. However experts are warning that the Czech Republic may make a fatal mistake in underestimating the threat of the Indian mutation now spreading in Europe, with some saying they already have a sense of déjà vu, in reference to the carefree manner in which Czechs celebrated the end of the pandemic with a party on Charles Bridge last year.

The State Institute for Health on Wednesday confirmed the spread of the more contagious Indian mutation in the Liberec and South Bohemian regions, although the country only reported around 30 cases of Delta on June 18th. Delta has also appeared in Prague, Moravia-Silesia, Hradec Kralove, Usti and Vysočina regions.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Delta will be the dominant coronavirus variant in Europe by the end of August.

So is the Czech Republic safe from another onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic? One aspect in its favour is that roughly three quarters of people vaccinated against Covid 19 received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which is believed to be effective against the Indian mutation. However experts warn that the country will not achieve herd immunity by the summer, if ever, given the lower interest in getting a vaccine among younger groups of the population.

Photo: Veronika Žeravová,  Czech Radio

Epidemiologist Ruth Tachecy says the country must push ahead with vaccinations and convince more people to get the jab, arguing that it is the only shield we have against another and potentially much worse wave of the coronavirus.

Epidemiologist and former health minister Roman Prymula has stressed the importance of testing  incoming tourists from high risk states and Czechs returning from risky holiday destinations.

Already there are indications that the easing of travel restrictions and greater socializing may have brought a set-back. Prague, which had a steady decline in Covid numbers ahead of many other regions, last week reported a slight increase with 17.2 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the reproduction number –which had dropped to 0.8 is now at 1.3.

Prague City Council has appealed on the government not to lift the rule on compulsory face masks in public transport, fearing what the combination of increased travel, socializing and the presence of the Indian mutation may bring.

According to Ladislav Dušek, director of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics, the low interest among the young in getting a vaccine is particularly worrying, since it is young people who are behind the increase of new cases in Prague.

In the 16 to 19 age bracket the incidence of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Prague is 31.5, while in the entire country it is 12.9, in the group aged 20 to 29 it is 59.9 in Prague and 15.6 overall.