Opposition slams govt. after swift scale-back of fresh mask rules

Foto: Michaela Danelová, Archiv des Tschechischen Rundfunks

At the start of the week the government announced compulsory facemasks would be returning to schools, shops and many other places in the Czech Republicfrom September 1. On Thursday, however, it made an abrupt about-turn on some of those requirements, leaving the opposition accusing the cabinet of incompetence.

On Monday the minister of health, Adam Vojtěch, said that from September 1 face masks would once again become compulsory in many places in the Czech Republic: on public transport, in shops and restaurants, in public buildings and in school corridors.

The move, the minister said, was timed to coincide with the start of the new school year, when the chance of Covid-19 infections would likely increase.

Mr. Vojtěch’s announcement sparked a wave of criticism, with some saying the rules were over the top and difficult to impose.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who has not been shy of publicly humiliating his cabinet colleague in the past, said he couldn’t understand some of the measures at all and summoned Mr. Vojtěch for talks.

Adam Vojtěch,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

After that meeting on Thursday the health chief announced a significant U-turn.

“We came to a certain conclusion with regard to modifying the special measures. But they are not being ended – it’s more a question of improved targeting of the places where the risk is highest.”

Explaining the volte face, Mr. Vojtěch said the government were not oblivious to differing opinions and had sought a compromise. We are not deaf and blind, he told reporters.

Face masks will, for instance, not be required in school corridors, with schools set to respond instead to a national “traffic light” map that evaluates Covid risk in individual districts.

“When it comes to schools, such measures will be tied to the traffic light system. This means that if a district is designated orange then face masks will be compulsory, as was planned.”

So where will people need to cover their mouths and noses from the start of next month?

The answer is at civil service buildings, at health and social care facilities and (during elections in October) polling stations.

Face masks will also be required on municipal and national public transport, on privately run coaches and in taxis, as well as at indoor events attended by 100 or more people.

Minister Vojtěch’s latest announcements were slammed by opposition parties on Thursday.

TOP 09 leader Markéta Pekarová Adamová said that there was still plenty of time for more changes before September 1, adding that the incredible chaos had exposed the government’s utter incompetence.

Petr Fiala of the Civic Democrats accused Messrs. Vojtěch and Babiš of making fools of the nation, asking whether they were deliberately trying to test people’s patience.

For his part, the Mayors and Independents' Petr Gazdík said the health minister had lost all trust and ought to resign.