Face masks return indoors after record jump in new Covid cases

Photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

From Thursday any time Czechs enter a building that is not their home they will be required to cover their mouths and noses. The return of face masks at national level follows a startling one-day rise in the number of positive Covid cases and reflects a marked deterioration in the public health situation.

One thousand, one hundred and sixty-four. That is the number of new cases of Covid-19 recorded in the Czech Republic on Tuesday, in by far the biggest single-day jump since the pandemic first hit the country.

Prague, currently the country’s biggest coronavirus epicentre, had seen a rise of 221 in a 24-hour period – also a record.

Soon after the release of these startling figures, the country’s top health officials held a hastily convened meeting to discuss the situation.

Afterward the minister of health, Adam Vojtěch, announced some big news via Twitter: From Thursday it will again be compulsory to wear face masks in the interiors of buildings throughout the Czech Republic. They will not be required in offices if social distancing is observed.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said that the move had been decided by the Ministry of Health and called on the public to adhere to the new rules.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

“The incidence, which is of course linked to the return to school, is higher. The most important thing is the situation surrounding hospitalisation and the number of deaths per million inhabitants. After taking advice from their experts, the ministry has decided to bring in a blanket face mask requirement indoors. They concluded that it’s on the rise not only in Prague and Central Bohemia but also elsewhere.”

Meanwhile the Prague transport authority has reintroduced a system under which all tram and bus doors will open automatically at every stop, meaning passengers don’t need to touch surfaces.

In other major coronavirus news, Prime Minister Babiš said the government was preparing a system of “self-tracing”, which he explained to reporters.

“People who get news from a laboratory that they are positive would fill in a form, including the contacts that they have had. This would make things easier for the hygiene authorities.”

Public health stations in Prague have struggled to cope with the onslaught of new cases and have recruited reinforcements from the ranks of army medics and – remotely – hygiene officials in other regions.

Mr. Babiš said on Monday that the idea of only tracing serious cases of Covid-19 was being considered. The Ministry of Health is expected to release a statement on the matter by the end of the week.

Further afield, Belgium has placed Prague on its “red” list. People returning to the country from the Czech capital will face two weeks of self-isolation and will also need a negative Covid test. The Czech PM said Germany was preparing a similar move.