Govt seeks state of emergency extension but some school pupils to return

Photo: Martina Klímová / Czech Radio

The Czech government will again ask MPs to extend the current state of emergency as the coronavirus epidemic has not yet slowed sufficiently. At the same time, enough progress has evidently been made that some children are going back to school in only a week’s time.

Following an alarming spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths, the Czech government introduced a state of emergency – the second this year – on October 5.

When it ran out after 30 days the government asked the Chamber of Deputies to extend it, as only it can do.

Now, with that extension due to run out at the end of next week, Interior Minister Jan Hamáček says MPs will be asked to give the government even more time to employ special powers.

“I am convinced that it will be necessary to request that the Chamber of Deputies extend the state of emergency. The situation is still complicated. Though it appears that the epidemic is decelerating, it is doing so slowly. If we are to maintain some measures according to the chart that will require a state of emergency.”

Jan Hamáček, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

The chart in question will set out in details the conditions under which current Covid-19 restrictions may be eased.

It is being drafted by minister of health, Jan Blatný, who says it will feature five levels of risk and be calculated according to a series of factors.

The new system should be discussed by the government’s Council for Health Risks this Friday.

Mr. Hamáček – who heads the national coronavirus task force – said he had asked Mr. Blatný to ensure the chart makes clear which measures require a state of emergency.

As to why the Covid situation is not improving as quickly as hoped, Mr. Hamáček said mobility data showed that Czechs had not reduced their social interactions as quickly as they had during the first wave of the coronavirus in the spring.

The lower house is expected to debate the extension to the state of emergency on Thursday next week, one day before the current one expires.

Mr. Hamáček says he does not expect MPs to nod to any more than a two-week longer state of emergency. At the same time, he has previously said it could be in place until Christmas.

But while many restrictions will likely stay in place for some time to come, there was major news on Wednesday with regard to the country’s schools, which closed their doors to pupils and students four weeks ago.

In a week’s time, on November 18, first and second grade elementary school children are set to return to the classroom, the minister of education, Robert Plaga, announced.

Both children and teachers will be required to wear face masks at all times, including during lessons. Different classes will not be allowed to mix, but classes will be of regular size.

Distance learning will also end for children attending special needs schools, Mr. Plaga said. Kindergartens have been running throughout the current crisis.