Government insists COVID-19 pandemic under control as “second wave” hits country

Photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The Czech Republic has been facing a significant surge in the number of new coronavirus cases, with some experts saying that it is the beginning of a second wave. However, the government insists the situation is under control, stating on Monday that the amount of dedicated hospital wards is still underfilled and a flexible system is in place to extend capacity if needed.

With the exception of Sunday when the amount of new infections lay at 792, a possible consequence of the low amount of testing that takes place on the last day of the week, the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 has been exceeding the 1,000 mark regularly over the past several days.

According to the former deputy health minister, and current government commissioner for medical science and research, Roman Prymula, who spoke to Czech Radio last week, the worst is yet to come.

Roman Prymula, photo: Archive of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic

“It is like a big, transatlantic ship which takes 10 to 14 days to show signs of you turning the rudder, so I find it rather unfortunate when we speak of record numbers every day, because there will still be many records ahead.

“I do not want to prophesy from a crystal ball, but the rise in cases will be significant over the coming days. It will likely be in the thousands.”

The country which was praised as an example for tackling the pandemic is now quickly disappearing from the safe travel lists of many European states. Belgium and Germany were among the first to introduce new restrictions for travelers to and from the country. Currently, 14 European countries have introduced restrictions of some sort on Czech travelers, with Slovakia stating it will make a decision on Monday.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has been trying to shift attention to the fact that while the amount of infections is rising sharply, these are mainly light cases of the virus and that the rate of deaths is still falling and is among the lowest in Europe.

Currently 288 people with the virus are in hospital, of which 69 are in serious condition. A total of 19 patients died last week out of a total of 456 deaths since the virus was first detected in the country.

The government has also been highlighting the fact that the number of hospitalised patients is still far below the maximum capacity of the country’s coronavirus focused hospital wards.

However, Dr. Prymula, who says that the Czech Republic has already entered the “second wave” of the virus, told Czech Television on Sunday that this could soon change.

“If we do not implement any further measures, I believe that we would reach a capacity limit by the end of October. ”

At a special press conference on Monday, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch tried to lower concerns about the availability of specialised care.

Adam Vojtěch, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

“Hospitals are still operating with a large reserve as far as capacity is concerned. They are sufficient as far as the recent development of the coronavirus situation is concerned and are able to accept several times the amount of patients currently hospitalised with the virus. Every region has its intensive care coordinator, who makes sure the system is working and we are ready to extend the amount of wards if necessary.

Mr. Vojtěch also said that regional governors are being urged to ensure speedy and accurate reporting on ward capacity within their region’s hospitals, so as to ensure the subsequent adjustments can be made swiftly.

In response to the worsening situation, the government has issued new regional measures. These include the obligation for bars and restaurants to close after midnight, already present in Prague, being extended to the Central Bohemian Region and the Uherské Hradiště district.

A special system of self tracing, wherein those who test positive fill out a form describing their recent movements, will start being used from next Monday. The goal, the health minister said,  is to ease the administrative burden, as until now the system of tracing the infected’s movements relied on questioning over the phone.