Half a year ago, at the end of August, the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis praised his country as “one of the best in dealing with Covid”. The government had quickly closed the borders in the corona pandemic, imposed a national lockdown and even made it mandatory to wear a mask in public.
The numbers proved Babis right: the Czech Republic only recorded around 20 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days. As early as the end of June, thousands of people celebrated the end of Corona at a street party – with little distance and without a mask. People no longer took the pandemic seriously and found their way back to everyday life. What followed was an increase in the number of infections to 848 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
The government imposed new measures, the numbers dropped significantly by early December. The Czech Republic loosened up again and again the numbers rose exponentially, this time to 853 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
This time the government admitted to having eased too early and again seemed to be on the right track with new measures at the end of January. Babis did not relax – despite the sharp drop in numbers.
The mutated variants of the virus are now facing the country again with a challenge. According to media reports, a mutated variant of the virus is detected in up to 70 percent of cases in some parts of the Czech Republic. This is also why there are more infections and more severe courses. In some hospitals, doctors need to use triage to prioritize patients.
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Now, at the end of February, the Czech Republic has by far the highest seven-day incidence in the world. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 765 cases per 100,000 population were reported in seven days. In comparison: In Germany there were only 67.
Deputy Health Minister Vladimir Cerny said this week that the capacity limit for places in the intensive care units has been reached. Above all, there is a lack of qualified staff, he said. He referred to the possibility of transferring patients from the severely affected Czech West to German hospitals. The government should therefore officially ask Germany to take in patients.
Two weeks ago, Health Minister Jan Blatny rejected an offer from Germany to relieve the hospital in the western city of Cheb. He received public criticism for this.
Cerny warned of an overload of the entire health system. There are already delays in the treatment of non-corona patients. “We are on the verge of running out of intensive care capacities. The system is close to its limit. “
1300 corona patients are currently being treated in intensive care units in Czech hospitals, half of them require ventilation. The Czech Republic has around 10.7 million inhabitants. In Germany, according to data from the intensive care register, around twice as many corona patients are treated in intensive care units in hospitals, around 2,800. However, Germany also has around eight times as many inhabitants.
In the Czech Republic, not only is the number of hospitalizations and confirmed new infections increasing, from around 6,700 at the beginning of February to more than 11,600 now. The proportion of positive tests in the total number of tests, the so-called positive rate, also increases significantly again. While it was less than 13 percent at the beginning of February, it is now almost 15 percent again. This is shown by official data on Our World in Data.
And while the number of daily reported deaths is falling in most European countries, it is rising again slightly in the Czech Republic. Four weeks ago, fewer than 100 were reported, as of Saturday it was almost 200.
Czechs criticize measures: “I will give a damn about that”
This week, the total number of corona deaths exceeded the threshold of 20,000. In order to bring the pandemic back under control, the government is now taking drastic measures.
Citizens are only allowed to leave their respective district from Monday in exceptional cases. In terms of size, the districts roughly correspond to the districts in Germany. “If we don’t do that, the whole world will see a second Bergamo in the Czech Republic,” warned Prime Minister Andrej Babis after a special session of the cabinet. Last spring, the corona virus raged in the Italian province of Bergamo.
In residential areas it is mandatory to wear a mask in public, as well as at workplaces. All schools and non-essential businesses would be closed. Trips to work, to the doctor and to the authorities are still permitted if the relevant evidence is provided. Walks and sports will only be allowed in their own community. In addition to 26,000 police officers, 5,000 soldiers are to watch over compliance with the requirements.
According to Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, the measures will initially apply for three weeks. “The only goal is to reverse the curve of new infections and intensive care patients before it is too late,” the interior minister told journalists. The government imposed a new month-long state of emergency that went into effect on Sunday. A night curfew has been in effect since last year, restaurants are closed.
In online comments and social media, however, the anger prevailed. “So far I’ve complied with everything, but I won’t give a damn,” wrote one Internet user. “The government politicians have gone crazy,” said another.
The criticism is also growing because the vaccination campaign in the Czech Republic is getting off to a slow start. The Czech Republic is even behind Germany in terms of the doses of the corona vaccines. As of Saturday, almost 6,000 vaccine doses were administered per 100,000 inhabitants, in Germany around 7,100. In view of the precarious situation in the Czech Republic, however, there are far too few vaccinations.
In the Czech Republic, however, it is probably also because there is not enough vaccine available. That is why we are now trying to remedy this on several sides.
Vaccine help from Germany, also Sputnik V should help
Saxony, Bavaria and Thuringia want to help the Czech Republic with corona vaccine. Saxony’s government spokesman Ralph Schreiber said on Sunday the delivery of a total of 15,000 vaccine doses to the neighboring country is planned for Monday.
The Czech government will therefore decide on the further distribution. Previously, Israel and France, the Czech Republic, had already promised doses of the Biontech Pfizer preparation. 5,000 cans are said to come from Israel, and even 100,000 from France. However, delivery is not expected until mid-March, said Prime Minister Babis.
In addition to intra-European aid, the Czech Republic is also taking a highly controversial step. The country also wants to receive the Russian corona vaccine Sputnik V. Czech President Milos Zeman explained on Saturday that he had turned to his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin with a request to that effect.
You still need approval for the vaccine, admitted Zeman. He himself said that approval from the Czech pharmaceuticals authority SUKL would be “fully sufficient”. Prime Minister Andrej Babis also agreed on Sunday in an interview with the newspaper “MF Dnes”. The head of government had recently emphasized that he would first wait for the approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Russia had already approved Sputnik V last summer, although important tests had not yet been carried out by then. At the beginning of February, the medical journal “The Lancet” published data on the vaccine’s effectiveness. According to Russian information, the vaccine has now been registered in more than 30 countries.
Another point of criticism is the controls at the border with Germany. The Czechs also hold their government partly responsible for this. The strict entry rules were introduced because Germany regards the Czech Republic as a virus variant area.
According to a report, these entry rules are now to be extended further. A draft bill from the Federal Ministry of Health provides for an extension of two weeks to March 17, reported the newspapers of the Funke media group on Saturday. Czechs who are not resident in Germany are generally no longer allowed to be transported to the Federal Republic of Germany.
High, increasing numbers of infections, sluggish vaccination campaigns and border controls – there is currently not much reason for optimism in the Czech Republic. However, this does not prevent President Zeman from coming up with a very confident forecast.
Zeman believes that the corona pandemic in his country could be over by September at the latest. Anyone who wants to get a corona vaccination would be vaccinated by then, Zeman told CNN Prima News. He also believes that the “slightly insane group” who refuse to be vaccinated will have changed their minds by then. (with agencies)