Health minister says move to higher lockdown level likely during Christmas holidays

Photo: ČTK / Igor Zehl

The Czech Republic is currently experiencing another rise in coronavirus infections. Data indicate that the past five days have been equivalent to the country’s highest emergency level in the PES counter-epidemic system. Health Minister Jan Blatný says increasing lockdown measures is likely, but believes that the rise in numbers is in part a consequence of more thorough testing.

Jan Blatný,  photo: ČTK / Roman Vondrouš

After partially lifting restrictions on free movement and business ahead of the Christmas season, the Czech government finds itself in a situation where its own PES counter-epidemic system indicates the necessity to revert to the highest possible level of lockdown measures.

For five days running now, data has been equivalent to PES level five, but the restrictions in place are only equivalent to level four. However, on Monday, the government announced that it will wait until mid-way into the week before it makes its decision on whether to close shops and introduce an earlier curfew.

Photo: ČTK / Luboš Pavlíček

Health Minister Jan Blatný told Czech Radio’s flagship station Radiožurnál why he believes there is no reason to panic just yet.

“The PES system was developed at a time when we did not yet employ mass testing. The significant rise in new cases is not just the result of the virus continuing to spread within the community, but also because of a significant increase in rapid, antigen testing. We only used PCR tests in the past and focused on people who had coronavirus symptoms. Now we are using more frequent and faster testing.”

However, despite the expansion of tests beyond symptomatic individuals, the ratio of those who have been testing positive rose by a fifth in the space of just two days to 30.2 percent on Monday. It is the highest ratio since November 11, when the country was operating at the highest possible PES lockdown measures.

Photo: ČTK / Miroslav Chaloupka

In early autumn, a rise in cases was followed by a sharp surge in hospitalisations and the government was warning of a possible collapse of the health system. However, this trend is not yet being mirrored, said Mr. Blatný.

“We should be seeing a rise in the trend of hospitalisations now, but that is not the case. We will know more in the next two to three days and that is the reason why we have chosen to delay our decision on whether to raise the PES level from four to five until Wednesday. However, it is likely, or at least possible that we will increase the lockdown measures.”

If the government does go ahead with reintroducing PES level five lockdown, the rules are expected to come into place on December 25. Health Minister Blatný says that no exceptions will be made to the current PES level five rules. This would mean the closure of all non-essential shops, night curfew from 9pm and a ban on outdoor meetings exceeding two individuals.