Masks made Czech Republic the envy of Europe. Now they’ve blown it

There are at the moment more new Covid-19 cases per million individuals recorded within the Czech Republic than in another main nation on the earth. On Friday, greater than 11,100 new circumstances have been reported in a single day, a brand new document. Within the first 17 days of October, extra individuals have died of the virus within the Czech Republic than through the earlier eight months of the epidemic mixed.

The Czech Medical Chamber and the well being minister have referred to as on Czech medical doctors residing overseas to return house to assist battle the virus. Medical college students and folks with medical coaching have additionally been inspired to come back ahead. Greater than 1,000 certified nurses who’ve left the career have supplied to come back again to assist.

For now, the Na Bulovce hospital has sufficient beds for everybody. Nevertheless it’s getting ready for the worst.

“We’ve got different back-up beds ready in different departments in case the capability exceeds our present potentialities,” mentioned Dr. Hana Rohacova, the top physician on the hospital’s an infection illness clinic. This weekend, the federal government started establishing a brief area hospital in Prague. Czech Well being Minister Dr. Roman Prymula instructed CNN he expects the additional beds will likely be wanted as quickly as the top of this month.

It is a gorgeous improvement. Lower than two months in the past, the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis boasted his nation was among the many “finest in Covid.”
Healthcare workers tend to Covid-19 patients at the intensive care unit at Thomayer Hospital in Prague on October 14, 2020.
Whereas the Czech Republic is technically experiencing the second wave of the epidemic, the primary one this spring seems to be like an insignificant blip on the radar compared to the present state. The Czech Republic was as soon as one of many most successful countries in Europe at controlling the unfold of the virus. Babis’ populist centrist authorities moved shortly to shut the borders and implement a nationwide lockdown. Many different nations did the identical, however what set the Czechs aside was the requirement to put on face masks by everybody, in every single place outdoors of the house.

Czech knowledge scientist Petr Ludwig was amongst these pushing for that masks mandate again in mid-March, months earlier than western well being authorities and even the World Well being Group was recommending them.

Ludwig had simply flown from New York to Prague, and says he was the one individual on his flight with a face masking. When he arrived house, he dug by means of the scientific proof supporting face coverings and made a YouTube video explaining why he was satisfied masks have been the reply. The Czech-language video attracted greater than 600,000 views, in a rustic of solely 10 million. An English model of the video has been seen greater than 5.7 million instances.

Days later, Babis introduced the masks mandate.

“We did not persuade the federal government, we satisfied public by [social media] influencers after which authorities adopted as a result of our authorities is barely populist. So that they adopted the opinion of the general public,” Ludwig instructed CNN.

Tomas Volny and his partner Barbora Duskova sew face masks in their apartment in Prague on March 17, 2020.
Medical masks have been in brief provide on the time, which was one of many explanation why the WHO didn’t recommend their use. Confronted with the scarcity, 1000’s of Czechs dusted off their stitching machines and have become a part of a wartime-like effort to make and distribute masks the place they have been wanted. One group of volunteers created an interactive map of want which resulted in additional than 600,000 masks, made principally by particular person volunteers, to be handed out across the nation.

The Prime Minister was transformed — he even tweeted some recommendation to US President Donald Trump on March 29, “Attempt tackling virus the Czech method. Sporting a easy material masks, decreases the unfold of the virus by 80% … God bless America!”

Czech nudists told to wear face masks by police
Most Czechs obeyed the masks rule. The measure wasn’t significantly in style with the lots, but it surely was wildly efficient in controlling the unfold of the virus. And it made the nation an outlier. “Some individuals from the WHO, for instance, instructed us that that is nonsense. Many different nations round Czech Republic instructed us that wearing masks is nonsense. However the Czech individuals have been doing nicely,” mentioned microbiologist Dr. Omar Sery, who was additionally one of many early advocates for face masks.
The Czech Republic’s first wave of an infection peaked in late March at 408 circumstances in in the future. The best single-day loss of life toll was simply 18, in April. On June 30, the Czech Republic recorded no new Covid-19 deaths. That very same day, an outdoor street party in Prague celebrated the top of the pandemic. Masks weren’t a part of the costume code. Theaters reopened, indoor eating returned, individuals have been allowed to journey overseas. Even Babis, the Prime Minister, went to Greece for a trip.

In nearly each method, the nation had regained the normalcy that individuals in throughout Europe have been craving. It would not final lengthy.

“We did not see lifeless individuals, we did not see individuals with coronavirus in hospitals — the Czech individuals thought that that is nonsense and we need not put on masks,” mentioned Dr. Sery.

People dine at a communal table stretching across the Charles Bridge in Prague after coronavirus restrictions were eased on June 30, 2020.

When the federal government lifted the strict masks mandate over the summer time, most individuals left theirs at house. The virus was slowly beginning to make a comeback. Even the well being minister conceded his nation’s victory lap was untimely.

“That is true, as a result of we had many specialists — and people weren’t the epidemiologists and virologists — however they have been arguing that, okay, the illness is there, but it surely’s very delicate,” mentioned Dr. Prymula, who has been on the job now for lower than a month. “So that they tried to push politicians simply to skip out of strict countermeasures.”

In August, with case-counts rising and colleges set to reopen, Rastislav Madar, a prime epidemiologist and the coordinator of the federal government’s coronavirus restrictions advisory group, referred to as for the federal government to re-instate the strict masks mandate that was in power within the spring. However when the then-Well being Minister Adam Vojtech introduced masks would once more turn out to be obligatory in most indoor areas, Babis mentioned no. A day later, Vojtech walked again lots of the new guidelines. Madar resigned a couple of days later.

With an early October Czech Senate election approaching, Ludwig thinks Babis’ choice was a populist political calculation.

The 'biggest protest since the fall of Communism' in Prague called for the resignation of the 'Czech Trump'

“Through the first wave, [the government] was satisfied that individuals wished masks, so that they pushed masks. Now, they’re satisfied that individuals do not wish to put on masks. So they’re towards [the mask mandate],” he mentioned. “After the election, they began to push some tougher guidelines once more, but it surely was too late as a result of we already had an exponential development.”

These measures have pressured colleges, eating places and pubs to shut down. Masks are required in indoor public areas and on public transport together with its out of doors stops and stations, however the identical strict masks mandate that appeared so efficient within the spring has not been re-instated.

“In Czech Republic, all people hates sporting a masks, actually. This isn’t Taiwan, this isn’t China the place they’re sporting a masks day by day,” mentioned Sery.

Prymula denies the choice was political. He says there are ongoing discussions about probably increasing the mandate to require masks outside too. “However as it is not solely sporting masks, it is a difficulty of different countermeasures, and significantly social contact, as a result of some individuals nonetheless preserve social contacts, even in non-public settings. That is the rationale why the state of affairs continues to be not below management,” he mentioned.

Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou contributed to this report from Berlin.

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