Health minister announces country-wide countermeasures as COVID-19 cases continue to grow

Photo: ČTK/Vojtěch Hájek

The Health Ministry has announced it is reintroducing a number of nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of COVID -19. As of midnight Friday facemasks will once again be compulsory at indoor events involving more than 100 people and public events will be restricted to 500 people starting next week. Meanwhile, City Hall has declared that Praguers will also have to wear masks when they visit the doctor or a pharmacy.

Following an upsurge in coronavirus cases over several days and a record number of people fighting the disease, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch called a press conference on Thursday to announce that , following consultations with the prime minister, he was reinstating some nationwide restrictions to further contain the spread of the coronavirus. From midnight Friday, people will have to wear facemasks if they attend an internal event of a capacity larger than 100 people.  This includes weddings and funerals.

Adam Vojtěch,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Furthermore, as of Monday, the maximum capacity of permitted internal events will be limited to 500 instead of the current 1,000 people, although the maximum capacity can be ranked up to 2,500 if it is divided into five separated areas.

Mr Vojtěch stressed that the country is suffering from localised outbreaks, not a second wave.  The restrictions should not to worry the country’s citizens – he said - since they were preventive and would not significantly impact people’s lives.

But Vojtěch’s colleague, Jan Hamáček of the Social Democrats, who was seen as the main proponent of the better-safe-than-sorry approach during the lockdown, sounded more gloomy in his press briefing.

“The numbers of COVID-19 infected patients which have been coming in over the past days are alarming. We can see that the situation is gradually getting worse.

“I would like to ask citizens not to wait until the ministry gives out orders, but to use face masks when they find themselves in closed spaces, public transport or buildings. The face mask has already proven itself once and is working across the world.”

Jan Hamáček,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

One positive aspect that the health minister can point to is that the number of infections among the over 65 age group is minimal. The vast majority of newly registered cases have not yet required hospitalisation and the overall number of deaths, ranging in the single digits, is far lower than it was in the initial months after the pandemic arrived in the country.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that hotspots are increasingly flashing up across the country. Prague and the Moravian-Silesian districts of Karvina and Frýdek-Místek are the worst-affected areas, responsible for 43 percent of all new cases found in the country last week, according to Health Ministry data.

In reaction to the trend, the Prague hygiene office has announced that from Monday facemasks will have to be worn not just in hospitals, but in other medical facilities as well, including doctors’ waiting rooms and pharmacies.

Mayor Zdeněk Hřib also advised citizens to take precautions to protect their health.

“I would like to make one thing clear. The obligation to wear face masks in the metro remains. We will not be extending this measure to other public transport services, where it is merely recommended. However, I would like to stress that the word ‘recommended’ means ‘do so, whenever possible’. It does not mean that masks are no longer necessary.”