On March 10, the Czech government announced drastic measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11. The central European country is preparing for the return of about 10,000 of its citizens from the blocked Italy, a popular ski destination among Czechs at this time of year.
The official Twitter account of the Czech Government announced the closure of schools and public events:
Stát kvůli šíření koronaviru zakázal kulturní, sportovní a společenské akce s účastí nad 100 osob, zavírají se školy → https://t.co/i2lAzMSTOl
– Úřad vlády ČR (@strakovka) March 10, 2020
The State has banned cultural, sports and social events in which more than 100 people attend, schools are closing.
The news came as a surprise to many Czechs, as until then the government had not yet announced measures against the coronavirus.
According to iDnes, the largest Czech newspaper, the measures will directly affect about 1.8 million people in a country inhabited by 10 million:
Podle statistik ministerstva školství je v ČR kolem 4 200 základních, 1 300 středních škol. Do základních škol chodilo loni zhruba 941,000 dětí, do středních 420 800. Učilo je celkem kolem 127,000 pedagogů. Vysoké školy studovalo loni přibližně 289,000 lidí.
According to statistics from the Czech Ministry of Education, there are approximately 4,200 primary schools and 1,300 secondary schools. About 941,000 children attended primary schools in 2019 and 420,800 attended secondary schools. About 127,000 teachers educated them. Last year, approximately 289,000 people studied at universities.
As reported by public officials, school closings are expected to last anywhere from two weeks to a month. While the plan makes sense from a public health point of view, it could be an added burden on working families who will now have to take care of daytime childcare.
The government says it is considering calling on medical students in recent years to replace medical equipment that needs to care for their children at home.
One possible reason for this sudden change in government policy is the expected arrival of nearly 10,000 Czechs on vacation in Italy. According to Czech Radio:
Lidi vracející se z Itálie mají povinnost ohlásit se po návratu lékaři a zůstat ve dvoutýdenní karanténě. V celé Itálii je podle Asociace cestovních kanceláří zhruba 12 tisíc českých občanů.
People returning from Italy are required to go to the doctor and be quarantined for two weeks. According to the Czech Association of Travel Agencies, there are approximately 12,000 Czech citizens in Italy.
The most recent number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic is 64 and as of March 11, no deaths have been reported. The Ministry of Health delivers updates several times a day, through the Twitter account:
Aktuálně ke # COVID19 v ČR: V tuto chvíli je pozitivní výsledek testu potvrzený u 64 pacientů z celkově 1358 testovaných. Další informace přineseme během dne a budeme průběžně zveřejňovat zde na Twitteru a také na https://t.co/U1I6vqi9Cy.
– Ministerstvo zdravotnictví (@ZdravkoOnline) March 11, 2020
Update on COVID-19 in the Czech Republic: So far it is confirmed that 64 patients out of 1,358 people who have had the test, have tested positive. We will update the information throughout the day and publish it here on Twitter and on the page of the Ministry of Health.
According to medical experts, the number of cases could be higher, since the tests are not available everywhere.
One of the sectors of the population that is most at risk are people over 65, who represent about 20% of the Czech population. As epidemiologist Rastislav Maďar points out, school closings, despite being necessary, put them at greater risk:
Virus tak trochu směřujeme tam, kam jsme nechtěli. Spousta rodičů nemůže zůstat taming malé děti skončí u babičky s dědečkem. Seniorům celou dobu říkáme, že je pro ně klíčová vlastní prevence a bezpečná zóna téměř dva metry ze všech stran. Ale s malým vnoučetem se to dodržuje velmi těžko.
We end up pushing the virus in a direction we don't want. Many parents cannot stay home, therefore young children end up staying with their grandparents. We continue to tell older adults that they must maintain a safe distance of two meters on all sides as a fundamental form of prevention. But with young grandchildren, one can hardly apply this type of measure.
Impact on tourism
The Czech Republic is a major tourist destination: it received close to 10 million foreign visitors in 2019, thus one foreign visitor for every Czech citizen. Many of these tourists are from countries that are currently highly affected by COVID-19, such as Italy, China, and South Korea.
On March 9, the Czech Government approved measures that will allow small and medium-sized companies that have been seriously affected by the consequences of COVID-19 to apply for loans at a zero interest rate.
However, a feeling of pessimism has already reached the tourism industry. Blogger Silvia Suto, who is also a co-owner of a Persian restaurant in Prague, wrote on March 9:
780. Sedmset osmdesát korun českých. Celá naše dnešní tržba. V sobotu! Pouhý týden poté, co u nás nebyla pomalu ani jedna volná židle a personál nestíhal. Lidi, řekněte nám, budete k nám chodit, pokud budeme zde všichni zaměstnanci restaurace nosit i roušku? Pomůže to? Vrátíte se k nám? Máme pro vás nechat otevřeno, nebo to máme definitivně zabalit? Cítím se jako na počátku tunelu. Temné chodby, na jejíž konci zatím žádné světélko nespatřuji. A na tunelech není nejvíce děsivá jejich temnota. Je to jejich neznámá délka.
780. Seven hundred eighty Czech crowns (US $ 34). That was all our profit today. On a Saturday! Only a week earlier you couldn't find an empty chair in our restaurant and our staff couldn't handle all the work anymore. People, tell us, would you come if we all wore masks? Would that help? Would they return? Should we stay open for you or should we close and go home? I feel like I'm standing at the entrance to a tunnel. Dark stairs, no light in sight. The scariest part of the tunnels is not the darkness. It is the fact of not knowing how long they are.
Meanwhile, massive cultural activities were canceled, including film festivals. State museums, such as the National Museum in Prague, also closed indefinitely:
V souvislosti s mimořádnou situací týkající se koronaviru, jsou všechny objekty Národního muzea až do odvolání pro veřejnost uzavřeny.
Omlouváme se za případné nepříjemnosti.
– Národní muzeum (@narodnimuzeum) March 10, 2020
Due to the exceptional situation caused by the coronavirus, all the buildings of the National Museum will remain closed to the public until further notice. We apologize for any inconvenience.
From denial to deception
The announcement published on March 10 was a real impact for Czech society. The Czech Government's policy indicates that it minimized the risks of COVID-19 until the last moment. On March 1, the Government announced that it would send five tons of humanitarian aid to China, including masks and gloves. On March 10, he announced that part of that aid will remain in the country, since they did not send everything.
One of the biggest sources of concern, as in other countries, is the current spread of false news regarding the origin of the virus, in addition to the measures that people should take to protect themselves.
A video released on January 26, and viewed by more than 370,000 people, claims that American companies and organizations will make millions of dollars from a future vaccine, and hints that the virus was created in the United States.
The author of the 15-minute conspiracy video, all in Czech, is Antonín Baudyš, a self-styled astrologer who also heads a Eurosceptic political party.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7O5Yb2jmnw (/ embed)
Even cyber crimes linked to the pandemic have been reported, such as scams of phishing. The following iDnes article notes:
Jedním z mnoha příkladů je třeba webová stránka vaccinecovid-19.com. Maily z ní odesílané vyzývají adresáty, aby se nechali otestovat na koronavirus. Stránka byla vytvořena 11. února v Rusku. Web nabízí prodej „nejlepšího a nejrychlejšího testu na detekci koronaviru za fantastickou cenu 19 tisíc ruských rublů (asi 7 tisíc Kč)“.
One of the main examples is the page vaccinecovid-19.com. Emails sent from that address invite your targets to take a test to detect COVID-19. That page was created on January 11 in Russia. The page offers “the best and fastest test to detect the coronavirus for the incredible price of 19,000 Russian rubles (US $ 30).
Check out Global Voices' special coverage of global impact of COVID-19.