“The situation is bad”, Blatný calls on Czechs to maintain discipline amid struggling health system

Jan Blatný, photo: ČTK/Slavomír Kubeš

In a televised address to the public on Thursday, Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný called on Czechs to maintain discipline and not break coronavirus rules in order to help contain the coronavirus epidemic. He also raised the seriousness of the more infectious “British” mutation of the virus which is currently spreading in society. The appeal comes at a time when several Czech hospitals are being forced to divert all capacities to fight the epidemic.

Since Christmas, life in the Czech Republic has been running under the strictest possible counter-epidemic measures. With the exception of essential suppliers, shops and gastronomy businesses are closed and group gatherings are also banned. Nevertheless, statistics continually indicate that the measures seem to be having little real impact. Indeed, European Commission data shows that the country has had one of the worst rates of new cases on the continent over the past two weeks. This has left the Czech health system continually teetering on the brink of functionality.

The seriousness of the issue was again brought up by Health Minister Jan Blatný in a televised address to the nation on Thursday evening in which he called on Czechs to respect the coronavirus measures currently in place.

“It is a sad fact that the epidemiological situation is not improving. Even worse, statistics clearly show that the ‘British’ mutation of the virus is present in the Czech Republic. It is more aggressive and spreads much faster. The measures that we put in place have stopped working. The situation is bad.. We are noticing a rise in health issues connected to heart and lung problems.”

Photo: ČTK/Slavomír Kubeš

The strain on the health system has also reflected itself in the inability to conduct standard procedures like in the past, Mr. Blatný said, using the example of the decline in breast cancer screenings by more than 40 percent over the past year.

The statement was made after the health minister’s visit to the hospital in Cheb, which had just one free COVID-19 emergency bed on Thursday and has been forced to transfer other patients into neighbouring hospitals. Its director, Martin Krušina, said that the lack of human resources is the most serious issue with his staff close to exhaustion.

“We are constantly forced to re-assign personnel and resources to combating the coronavirus. We no longer have the capacity to conduct operations.”

In response to the crisis, the region of Karlovy Vary, of which Cheb is a part of, requested that the government look into deepening cooperation with neighbouring Germany, which previously offered to move some Czech patients to hospitals in Bavaria and Saxony. However, Mr. Blatný said that his ministry will refuse the offer, because German hospitals are also overburdened and would not be able to take on more than a few people. The decision was quickly condemned by several leading opposition politicians.

The health minister’s message also came ahead of a Parliamentary vote on whether to extend the ongoing state of emergency, which gives the government extraordinary powers to enforce measures, by a further 30 days beyond February 14. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said that without the extension the Czech health system will collapse. The Communist Party, which has thus far acted as a vital support for the minority government, announced on Thursday that it will not vote in favour of an extension, but the opposition has signalled that it is open to discussing possible support in the upcoming vote.