New Czech government outlines Covid strategy

The new Czech government hasn’t wasted time in laying out its priorities as regards the Covid crisis. A decree on compulsory vaccinations will be amended before it takes effect, while the health minister says he prefers appealing to the public to be careful over state directives.

One of the last acts of the previous Czech government was to order Covid vaccinations for staff at hospitals and nursing homes, police officers, soldiers, people in some other professions – and all citizens aged 60 or over.

Though this decree is due to take effect in March, Petr Fiala’s new coalition government plans to overhaul it before then.

The freshly installed minister of health, Vlastimil Válek, says the order will not include any reference to age under amendments to be introduced in mid-February.

Mr. Válek discussed the government’s intentions on CNN Prima News on Sunday.

“The decree needs to be revised. The first reason is the speed of the mutation of the virus. The decree has to respond to the data we receive concerning omicron. The second thing is that, technically, compulsory vaccinations of adults are a clear break with WHO methodology. There needs to be clear agreement among countries – at least in the EU – on how to proceed on compulsory vaccinations.”

Vlastimil Válek | Photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

One of the new coalition government’s first acts was to announce it would not seek to extend a state of emergency that is due to last until December 25.

Instead, it is putting a lot of emphasis on PCR testing, which Minister Válek said would be considerably stepped up.

He said on Sunday that 140,000 PCR tests were currently being done every day in the Czech Republic.

This should increase to 200,000 a day by mid-January and reach up to 600,000 by the middle of 2022, but even that may not be enough, he said.

In any case, the health chief says vaccinations still represent the wisest approach to Covid.

Mr. Válek also said that ensuring children remained at school and did not have to return to distance learning was crucial.

Discussing his approach more broadly, the new health chief said on CNN Prima News that he was not in favour of directive-style measures, and would emphasise “explanation and understanding”.

He said he would announce further measures, after weighing up the latest data, on December 27.

Mr. Válek said that he preferred to appeal to the public to moderate their behaviour over Christmas than to introduce fresh restrictions.

When the CNN Prima News host asked what would happen if these appeals failed, he replied that things would “end well”.

Meanwhile, the national Health Risks Council established by the last Czech government is being scrapped; Vlastimil Válek and his counterpart at the Ministry of the Interior, Vít Rakušan, will now be the key public faces of the state’s battle against the coronavirus.