Government measures tightening: from lockdown to closed kindergartens and some stores to compulsory COVID testing of employees
The situation is dramatic
The Czech Republic has the largest increase in new infections per million inhabitants in the world. The epidemiological situation has been deteriorating again in recent days, with a new number of 15,672 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, which is 3,000 more than last week and the highest since 6th January. There were 13,657 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection on Wednesday. Hospitals are full, with a record number of patients in intensive care units as well. Hospitals do not manage to provide all the usual care, as they also face a shortage of staff.
The government has therefore decided to tighten the anti-COVID measures and extend the state of emergency, otherwise, according to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the Czech Republic will face immense healthcare problems.
"I know the public is very sceptical, the situation is difficult for all of us. But I would still like to appeal to all of you to try and persevere. We are in a situation where we have a dramatic increase of hospital load, more than 7,000 hospitalized cases and 1,400 patients in the ICU," said Prime Minister Babiš at Thursday evening's press conference.
What will apply from Monday, 1 March?
During today's meeting, the government agreed on the following points:
Extension of the state of emergency until 28 March
The state of emergency is extended until 28 March. Originally, the state of emergency was to apply until Saturday, 27 February, but today the Chamber of Deputies refused to extend it, so a new state of emergency was declared by the government. The state of emergency in the Czech Republic has been in force continuously since 5 October 2020.
Restrictions on the free movement of persons and contact between people
For 3 weeks starting Monday it shall be forbidden to leave your district, except for a travel to work, care for a close person, running errands with authorities or a doctor visit. Justification of the trip outside the district shall be required – confirmation from the employer, confirmation of the contract, etc. for the self-employed or a solemn declaration. The form will be published on the internet. Sports and recreation shall only be allowed in the territory of your municipality, as well as shopping. Dog walking during nighttime shall be allowed within 500 meters from the place of residence.
Visiting relatives within the district of residence shall not be permitted under the government decree, unless it is necessary to provide for their basic needs or necessary care. Furthermore, people who do not live in the same household should not come into contact when staying outside.
"We need people to stay at home for three weeks, leaving for work only. We have to minimize our contacts absolutely and try to curb the fast-spreading pandemic together," said Prime Minister Babiš after Thursday's government meeting.
Closure of certain stores
From Monday, certain shops such as stationery stores, children's clothing and footwear, or weapons and ammunition stores shall be closed. Groceries, pharmacies, drugstores, opticians or florists have an exception. Among the services, petrol stations, delivery points for goods ordered from e-shops, unattended car washes or telephone and computer repair services will continue to operate.
"We had to put additional restrictions on retail and services. Therefore, we have reduced the exceptions by about half,"
said Minister Havlíček.
The government also kept an exception for newsagents, feed and gardening shops, and household goods stores. Taxi services and tow trucks shall also operate.
Closure of kindergartens and schools
Kindergartens, schools and children's groups shall be closed. Exceptions are children's groups at medical facilities where doctors and other hospital staff can put their children. The planned return of students to schools has been postponed indefinitely.
"This new mutation is spreading very quickly among children, including young children," said Health Minister Jan Blatný after yesterday's government meeting.
People who stay at home with their children will be entitled to a nursing allowance. Kindergartens have been operating without any restrictions throughout the whole state of emergency, primary schools have been attended only by first and second graders, as well as students of special schools for the disabled. The closure of kindergartens and first and second classes will affect around 600,000 children.
Introduction of blanket testing in companies
The Czech Republic will launch blanket testing of employees from 1 March. Four tests per person and month shall be reimbursed. In the first phase, the system will be voluntary, later mandatory. It will be possible to perform the tests without the assistance of a healthcare professional. Employers will be obliged to report all workers who tested positive to hygiene stations. It is estimated that testing could concern about 1.88 million people, meaning that circa 7.5 million tests could be done every month.
Extension of quarantine from 10 to 14 days
The Czech Republic is returning to 14 days long quarantine, in relation to new mutations, especially the British and more recently, South African, which was confirmed in the Czech Republic today. According to Blatný, new mutations have a different course of infection and people can be infectious for longer, therefore quarantine shall be prolonged.
What is in effect from today?
Due to the threat of introducing more aggressive coronavirus mutations (Brazilian and South African), the Ministry of Health banned Czech citizens and other residents of the Czech Republic from entry into countries with an extreme risk of these mutations, effective from today until April 11, except where urgently necessary. These high-risk countries include Botswana, Brazil, Eswatini (Swaziland), South Africa, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania (including Zanzibar and Pemba), Zambia and Zimbabwe.
What's in effect since yesterday?
The government proceeded to tighten the measures on Monday. As of yesterday, respirators or two surgical masks are mandatory in places where more people are concentrated, such as shops, public transport or hospitals. In other places, a surgical mask will be mandatory from March, home-made masks shall no longer be sufficient.
"From 1 March, it shall be mandatory to wear at least a surgical mask everywhere in the built-up area of the municipality. Wherever you go, no matter how far you are from other people,"
said Minister of Health Jan Blatný (for ANO) after Friday's meeting.
The exception only applies if a person is alone in nature. Moreover, from 1 March employers are obliged to equip their employees with respiratory protection.
The Czech government will also ask Poland and Germany for help. France, among others, is trying to help the Czech Republic by providing 100,000 doses of vaccine. During this week, Israel also helped the Czech Republic by donating 5,000 doses of the vaccine, which are heading to the Central Military Hospital to gradually vaccinate up to 2,500 members of the army who shall help to care for COVID patients.