Government orders blanket testing of employees in ten thousand companies

Photo: ČTK / Ondřej Deml

With the coronavirus epidemic threatening to spiral out of control, the Czech government on Monday ordered blanket testing of employees in companies around the country. The decision has seen thousands of firms scrambling to secure tests for over two million people.

Photo: ČTK / David Taneček

So far the government’s counter-epidemic strategy has proved woefully inadequate and Covid numbers have been soaring. With the country’s health system on the brink of collapse the government is making a last ditch effort to bring down the numbers, acting simultaneously along two lines –curbing mobility by banning travel between districts and ordering massive testing of employees around the country.

Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlíčkek laid out the rules following Monday’s cabinet meeting:

Karel Havlíček,  photo: Archive of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic

“Companies in the Czech Republic will become part of the government’s counter-epidemic strategy. We are one of the first countries in Europe to undertake blanket testing of employees. In the first phase this will involve ten thousand companies which will test over 2.1 million employees within a fortnight at the latest on a compulsory basis.”

Companies with over 250 employees must start testing on Wednesday and will have to conclude the first round of testing no later than March 12, companies with over 50 employees no later than March 15. From thereon, employees must take one test a week at least. Companies have been asked to place as many employees on home office as possible. Companies which fail to meet the stated requirements will face tough financial sanctions.

Photo: ČTK / Radek Petrášek

The new rules imposed are the strictest to hit the industrial sector, which has remained in operation throughout most of the crisis and which epidemiologists say is key to getting the epidemic under control.

Companies are now scrambling to secure tests and organize the logistics. They can either have employees tested on the premises by a firm providing the service, send them to a testing centre or acquire self-testing kits now available on the market. The state will contribute 60 crowns to the cost of testing for each employee four times a month (tests cost 50 to 150 crowns).According to available estimates suppliers presently have around five million tests on stock and should get another five to eight million within a week. Even so, companies are worried about distribution. Those which have been testing on a voluntary basis have an advantage, the others are scrambling to secure medical firms which can provide the service.

Illustrative photo: Alexas_Fotos,  Pixabay / CC0

In a related move, aimed at boosting discipline and getting people to self-isolate with Covid, the government also approved a proposal for people in quarantine to receive a full wage, rather than just 60 percent of their earnings. The proposal should be approved by both houses of Parliament in a fast-track legislative procedure.