Government announces new measures to stop health system from “collapsing”

Roman Prymula, Karel Havlíček, Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The Czech government has announced a severe tightening of restrictions on business and public life in response to the growing increase in new coronavirus cases and hospitalisations affecting the country. Starting on Thursday, non-essential shops and small businesses will have to close, employees must work from home whenever possible, and people's activities will be limited.

Over the past two weeks, the Czech Republic has seen the largest average increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 in the whole of Europe. At the same time, the number of hospitalised patients and deaths has been rising steadily as well.

In response to the trend, the government held a special meeting on Wednesday after which it announced a wide range of measures that go into effect as of 6am on Thursday until at least until November 3.

All shops and small businesses, with the exception of stores offering basic supplies (food stores, chemists, toiletries stores) and some government defined services (such as car repair businesses) will have to close. Hotels will be closed for recreational visits.

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

The government has also recommended that businesses let their employees work from home and limit any tasks that are not absolutely necessary. State offices will not be allowed to serve the public for more than two days a week.

Furthermore, members of the public are advised not to come into contact with others unless for the fulfilment of basic needs such as going to work, to the doctor, shopping or seeing family members.

The move is in contrast to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s summer assurances to business that there would be no more lockdowns. However, it is very much required, he told a press conference on Wednesday.

“The increase in cases is huge. Unfortunately, the measures that we put in place over the past weeks have not succeeded in flattening the curve, and it looks as though they are not working. We are also experiencing a massive increase in patients who require hospitalisation.

“I apologise to the public and to businesses for the measures we have had to adopt. I said it would not happen, because I did not believe it could happen. However, it has happened and we have a primary duty to protect the lives of our citizens. “

“This is not just about protecting patients with COVID-19. It is about protecting the lives of all citizens, because the health system is at risk. Various mathematical models indicate that if we do not go ahead with the measures, our health system would collapse sometime around November 7 to 11.”

Roman Prymula,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

A government projection presented on the screen showed that this scenario would take place if the reproduction (R) number remains at its current level of 1.36 for the next three weeks. Health Minister Roman Prymula said that measures adopted until now have not been able to lower the reproduction rate.

“We can also see – and this is a very worrying parameter – that more than 30 percent of people who are tested have the coronavirus. That means that there is a huge number of people who have the coronavirus among the wider population.”

Mr. Prymula said that the state has put considerable effort into increasing its ability to handle the epidemic’s onslaught over the past two weeks. This has included raising the number of call centre operators, more than tripling the number of designated hospital beds, to 15,000, and mobilising medics into the health sector.

However, he said that even further expansions in the health sector’s capabilities would not be sufficient unless new measures were put in place and the rate of infection reduced.

The health minister also pointed to another worrying trend – the rate of spread among pensioners.

“Here the rate of growth is truly exponential and it is one of the reasons why it is vital that we put in place stricter measures. In some regions we can see a growth in cases of up to 500 percent among seniors.”

The government is set to decide whether to extend the ongoing state of emergency beyond 30 days next week.