Health minister: few Czech tourists returning with COVID-19, but Serbia and Montenegro now considered high-risk

Illustrative photo: Barbora Němcová

Only a handful of Czech tourists returning home from foreign summer holidays have tested positive for the coronavirus, Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch told Czech Radio. His assessment came just a month after open-borders were reinstated with most fellow EU states. However, tougher measures on travel to Serbia and Montenegro were put in place this week.

It is just a month since the Czech Republic reopened its borders with much of Europe. With tourists now able to travel back and forth the question naturally arises as to how many may have contracted the coronavirus.

According to Health Minister Adam Vojtěch - who was interviewed by Czech Radio’s Radiožurnál on Sunday – the answer is only very few.

Adam Vojtěch, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

“We are talking about single cases, so it is not possible to talk about a serious risk. There is no high number and that is why it was not seen as correct to designate any country of origin as dangerous for now.”

Despite the low number of cases among returning tourists, the Health Ministry is still quick to adjust its European list of COVID-19 “safe states“. On Saturday, it newly designated Serbia and Montenegro as high-risk for the disease, much to the dismay of the Czech Association of Travel Agencies, its deputy chairman, Jan Papež, told Czech Radio.

“It could impact several hundred Czech clients. For us as travel agencies, it is a great surprise…We think the ministry acted too rashly to the situation which has been in Montenegro for just around a week.”

Health Minister Vojtěch defended the decision on Czech Radio, where he said on Sunday that the threshold for increasing the level of risk lies at 16 infections per 100,000 people within a country’s population.

“I can hardly react in a different way than with hard numbers. If we are talking about Montenegro or Serbia, their number of infections per 100,000 people within the population lies at around 50. That is why we made this decision. Other states have also designated Montenegro as risky in this respect.”

Jan Papež, photo: Luboš Vedral / Czech Radio

However, Papež says the infection rate is the result of a localised outbreak in what is only a part of Montenegro and likened the move to Slovenia’s decision two weeks ago to limit Czech travel after an outbreak in Karvina, in the Moravian-Silesian Region. According to the health minister, this was a result of the Slovenian government’s tougher criteria.

From Monday, as a result of the new Health Ministry classification, tourists returning from the two Balkan countries will have to test negative for COVID-19 or undergo two weeks of self-imposed quarantine.

Serbia and Montenegro are not the only Balkan states to see an increase in cases. Some European states have removed Bulgaria from their list of safe countries to travel to, while Croatia, which regularly tops the list of most popular Czech holiday destinations, has also seen cases rise in recent days.

However, according to Health Minister Vojtěch, outbreaks in Croatia are only very recent, at a local level and not in tourist locations. A possible revision would only be considered if the infection rates breached the Health Ministry’s safety level after they were averaged over a period of two weeks, he told Czech Radio.