Government prepares for tougher measures as COVID-19 cases rise, but not all doctors are on board

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

Tuesday saw the highest rise in new COVID-19 cases yet recorded both in Prague and the wider Czech Republic. While the Ministry of Health has since announced that it will harden its countermeasures, not all Czech medical practitioners are on the same page. Some have signed a petition which warns that government countermeasures are in fact more damaging than the virus.

Statistics-wise, September was by far the worst month in the Czech Republic’s fight against the coronavirus since it was first registered in the country on March 1and it seems that the chapter is far from over.

On Tuesday, 4,457 new cases of the coronavirus were detected in the Czech Republic, 856 of which were in Prague. It was the highest one day jump in cases both countrywide and in the capital since the pandemic hit the country.

In response to Tuesday’s statistics, Health Minister Roman Prymula said on Czech Television that the new set of measures that the ministry will announce of Friday will have to be tougher than previously envisioned.

Roman Prymula,  photo: ČTK/Kamaryt Michal

“The hard measures will be put in place for a period of two weeks after which another, less restrictive, two-week set will be implemented. We are trying not to have these countermeasures affect the basic economic pillar of the state. The measures will concern leisure activities.”

The reason why the restrictions are put in place for a two week period is because, according to the health minister, this is a long-enough period in which to see whether they are having the desired effect.

Aside from tightening restrictions, the health minister also announced that the government will discuss his plan of calling up students of medicine to help boost the capacity of the health sector in case the situation gets so bad that it would be difficult to cope with the number of patients. He said that the next three weeks will be crucial in lowering the growth in new cases and bending the epidemic curve down again.

At the same time that they are fighting the coronavirus, Health Minister Prymula and his colleagues are also waging a battle against a part of the Czech medical profession itself.

Recently, nine prominent doctors, among them the head of the Czech Medical Homeopathic Society, heart surgeon Jan Pirk, psychiatrist Radkin Honzák and Roman Šmucler, chairman of the Dental Chamber, signed a petition asking the government to cease from imposing further restrictions.

Roman Šmucler,  photo: Martin Čuřík / Czech Radio

One of the signatories, Dr. Šmucler, explained his reasons behind signing the petition, which has since garnered support from nearly 50,000 signatories, to Czech Radio.

“The idea of the document seems good to me – not to scare people more than is necessary…Our whole initiative is about not damaging 95 percent of the nation, which is frankly not under too much threat, but lets focus on saving as many people as possible.”

The petition has been condemned by the health minister as “absolutely irresponsible”. In a Monday tweet he wrote that none of the high profile signatories understand epidemiology and “do not even understand the basic facts”.

His opinion on the matter was echoed by the head of the Czech Medical Chamber Milan Kubek

“The idea that we should leave this infection to roam freely, that we will have hundreds of thousands of people infected, tens of thousands in hospitals and every day hundreds will die, but that the economy will just be able to operate normally, is ridiculous. It would just lead to the economy freezing, collapsing and then we would be talking about a real catastrophe.”