Government ready to make concessions on pandemic strategy after losing crucial support in the lower house

Czech Government declares a new state of emergency, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

Talks started on Tuesday between the government and opposition on a revision of the pandemic measures in place and a gradual easing of restrictions as soon as the situation allows. The negotiations were triggered by the need to reach agreement after the ruling coalition lost the support of the Communist Party and is no longer able to push through its own pandemic strategy in the lower house.

The British mutation of the virus which has been driving up Covid numbers in the Czech Republic is not the only complication the Babiš government is facing in the fight against Covid. The sudden loss of support from the Communist Party, which has been crucial to pushing through its strategy in the lower house, left it powerless to extend the state of emergency on which all the measures in place hinge.

At the eleventh hour, it was given a fortnight‘s grace by the country’s regional governors thanks to whom it was able to call a new state of emergency until February 28. In the course of that time it will have to win support in the lower house for a new legal framework within which it can continue to enforce restrictions without a state of emergency –or persuade the opposition to extend the state of emergency once again after meeting its demand to revise the measures and get rid of the restrictions that are not working.

Photo: ČTK/David Taneček

On Monday the government took several steps towards fulfilling those goals. It passed a bill on pandemics which would enable the Health Ministry to impose almost all of the coronavirus restrictions now in place with the exception of restricting freedom of movement. The hitch is that the respective bill is almost identical with that which the government presented to the lower house last summer and which was rejected as ill-conceived. The opposition parties say it would require numerous amendments in order to win approval – which is not likely to happen in the space of a fortnight.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš himself noted on Sunday that he did not expect this to happen and was counting on reaching agreement with the opposition regarding the measures in place. And the announcements made on Monday indicate that this is the strategy that the government is banking on. Following talks with regional governors, Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlíček announced that he would propose to the cabinet the reopening of shops as of Monday, Feb 22. The government’s Council for Health Matters on Tuesday endorsed the idea.

Another big demand is for schools to reopen as soon as possible and Education Minister Robert Plaga said on Monday that more primary school children and students in their last year could return to the classroom as of March 1 – with non-invasive tests and the recommended safety precautions.

Speeding up the process of vaccinations is another demand on the table. Just how much will change in the course of the next fortnight is not yet clear –what is, is that the ruling coalition has been made to realize that it is no longer in a position to call the shots alone.