New Covid measures aim to deter skiers, limit social contact

Photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

With the country still experiencing one of Europe’s worst rates of Covid-19 infection, the Czech government is introducing fresh measures to combat the virus. The focus is on reducing social contact – and in particular deterring people from going skiing.

The Czech Republic moved to the highest level on its five-tiered system of coronavirus restrictions in late December.

In recent weeks there was some easing in the numbers surrounding Covid-19, sparking talk about the possibility of some grades returning to school and ski centres opening.

Now, however, infection rates are slowly rising again, at a time when Czech hospitals are close to capacity and dangerous new strains of the virus are appearing.

Karel Havlíček and Jan Hamáček,  photo: ČTK/Michaela Říhová

Interior Minister Jan Hamáček, who heads the national coronavirus task force, spoke to journalists after a protracted cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“Mountain resorts are a major problem. The health minister has figures showing that there has been a spike in numbers in the places where such resorts are located – and we have focused our measures today in this direction.”

While the country’s hotels are essentially closed, Czechs have still been going skiing in significant numbers, staying at friends’ mountain cottages, or even in camper vans, and finding loopholes in the Covid restrictions.

With some school children due to begin their spring break on Monday, the government is now attempting to close those loopholes with measures set to take effect at midnight Friday.

Czechs will be only allowed to stay at their own recreational properties, exclusively with members of their own households, said Minister Hamáček.

“And the biggest change is in response to so-called ‘work trips with the entire family’. Only people who are conducting business travel will be permitted to stay at accommodation facilities, without family members. They will need to produce written confirmation from their employers that they are actually on work trips.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková

From Saturday, ski tows and chair lifts are completely banned and may only be used by rescue workers.

Ski resorts have only officially been allowed to open this winter for a week and a half in December.

However, the Minister of Transport, Karel Havlíček, said that there was still chaos on the slopes, with basic safety and hygiene measures flouted.

Away from the mountains, the government is again encouraging Czechs to keep social contacts, including family visits, to an absolute minimum.

The best thing people can do is stay at home, said Mr. Hamáček.

If Czechs do visit elderly relatives they should wear respirators, he said.

The cabinet did not make respirators compulsory on public transport or elsewhere, but they must be worn by driving students and instructors.

In addition free antigen tests will be available once every three days, not every five days, as has been the case since their introduction. Most hospital visits have again been forbidden.