Government asks for extension of state of emergency and rules out easing of restrictions as “British mutation” detected in Czechia

Photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

For a third day running now, the Czech Republic’s coronavirus epidemic has been improving according to the government’s PES counter-epidemic system indicators. However, apart from the reopening of children’s clothing shops and stationeries, the government is not planning any loosening of measures and has asked for the extension of the state of emergency for another 30 days. The reason is the situation in Czech hospitals and the detection of the British mutation of Covid-19 in the Czech Republic.

The daily coronavirus data in the Czech Republic has been showing a slow-down in the epidemic. For three days running now the numbers are equivalent to level four of the PES counter-epidemic system, rather than the maximum level five which is currently in place. However, in a press briefing on Monday evening the government made clear that it is not considering lowering the PES scale.

Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Jan Hamáček explained why.

“Even though the situation may be improving in terms of lower infection rates and hospitalisations, it is certainly not enough to start celebrating. We have more than 6,000 patients in hospital of which 1,000 are in intensive care units and the number of new cases per day is still in the thousands, so our health system is still facing high levels of risk.

Jan Hamáček,  photo: ČTK/Kateřina Šulová

“Therefore, we have to continue with our system of countermeasures thanks to which the epidemic has started to recede. It will be necessary to remain at level five for some time.”

For the current measures to stay in place it is necessary for the government to get approval from the Chamber of Deputies to extent the state of emergency, which is set to run out on January 22. If the lower-house of Parliament does give the green light, it will mean the extension of extraordinary powers to the state executive until February 21.

The official reason put forward for the need to extend the state of emergency is the detection of the so-called “British mutation” of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic, which was confirmed by the State Health Department on Monday. According to Health Minister Jan Blatný, up to 10 percent of samples currently tested in Czechia could belong to this mutation, which he says is not more dangerous, but does spread up to 40 percent faster. Further information on what the government plans to do in response to the British mutation is expected to come on Tuesday afternoon.

Some indication on when Czechs may expect an easing of measures came from the former Health Minister and current advisor to the prime minister, Roman Prymula. He told the news site that hard measures are likely to remain in place until March or the beginning of April, pointing to the importance of cold weather in furthering the spread of COVID-19. The wearing of facemasks could be lifted during the summer months, with the obligation only remaining for those who have not yet received the coronavirus vaccine, he said.