Coronavirus. Sick woman wearing protection face mask looking through the window. Patient isolated in house to prevent infection. Quarantine room at hospital.

New State of Emergency From Saturday; Restrictions on Freedom of Movement From Monday

In response to the rapidly deteriorating epidemiological situation, new stricter measures will be imposed across the Czech Republic from Monday, for an initial period of at least three weeks. These include closures of all schools, mandatory testing in companies, and restrictions on non-essential travel outside the local area. The Chamber of Deputies refused to extend the state of emergency, so the government has declared another new one instead. Photo credit: Freepik.

Czech Rep., Feb 26 (BD) – Amid rapidly increasing numbers of confirmed cases in the Czech Republic, the circulation of new more contagious variants of the coronavirus among the population, and a critical shortage of capacity in hospitals, the government has announced stringent new lockdown measures, which will apply from Monday. As part of the new measures, all schools that are currently open will close, including kindergartens, testing should begin and respirators will be mandatory in companies where staff cannot work from home, and travel will be restricted to the local area. 

The Chamber of Deputies rejected an extension to the current state of emergency, which expires today. The government argued that the Pandemic Law is insufficient to impose the necessary measures to protect the country’s struggling hospital system. Although much of the opposition agreed with the government that a state of emergency is required, they argued against extending the current one, which is the subject of a complaint to the constitutional court. The government duly declared a new state of emergency, which will last until March 28th.  

As of Friday morning, 19,999 people have died from coronavirus in the Czech Republic, and 1,531 are currently in intensive care in hospitals, compared with around 1,200 in November at the peak of the second wave. The government is anticipating overwhelming demand for hospital capacity in the coming weeks. Health Minister Jan Blatný (ANO) said on Thursday that even with the new measures, new confirmed cases in the Czech Republic are likely to rise further, adding to the already-critical situation in hospitals. Negotiations are currently underway with Germany and Poland about the possibility of using beds in their hospitals for Czech patients. 

“Even if we impose these measures, according to our most optimistic models, we still assume an increase to around 20,000 new confirmed cases a day, followed by a decrease. If the measures are not implemented, the increase will be even higher. From this it is logical to expect an even greater burden on hospitals,” he said. Blatný warned on Friday that confirmed cases could reach 35,000 per day if sufficient measures are not taken.

However, the Health Minister also expressed optimism that the measures announced today would be effective: “There is a very good correlation between increased mobility and reproductive numbers. The goal of the three-week closure now is to turn the curve downwards. At the end of three weeks, the numbers could be similar to now, but on the downward curve, in the meantime there will be a peak that we need to be prepared for.”

The new measures to apply from Monday include:

Restrictions on freedom of movement

New restrictions will be placed on freedom of movement. From Monday, walks and exercise during the day will be limited to within the municipality where you live. Those walking their dogs at night must stay within 500 metres of their house. Movement between districts will be prohibited, other than for work reasons or to provide emergency care, as is already the case in the severely affected areas of Cheb, Sokolov and Trutnov. Police will be carrying out spot checks, and according to Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (CSSD), up to 5,000 military personnel may be called on to support them in this activity.

Those leaving their own district for work reasons must carry evidence, either a permit from their employer or, in the case of self-employed people, a work contract. Those travelling outside their district for medical appointments must provide a written affidavit of the place and time of the appointment. Shopping will only be permitted within your home district. Visits to relatives, even within the same district, will only be allowed for the provision of urgent care.

The night curfew remains in force between 9pm and 5am, and movement during the day is restricted to travel for work, shopping, medical reasons, necessary visits to relatives, or exercise. 

Restrictions on retail

Stationery shops and shops selling children’s clothes and shoes will close again. All shops and services will be closed except: grocery stores, shops selling fuel, drugstores and domestic goods stores, pharmacies, animal feed and pet stores, shops selling spectacles and contact lenses, towing and vehicle repair shops, print shops, tobacconists, newsagents, pick-up points for goods and packages, gardening supplies stores, ticket offices, florists, electronics and computer services, funeral services, unstaffed launderettes, taxi services, and psychotherapists. Restaurant windows may also remain open.

School closures

All schools that are still open, including the first and second years of primary schools, kindergartens, and special schools, will be closed, similar to last spring, except to children of medical staff and other key workers.

Measures in the workplace

Although workplaces are second only to family as the main source of new infections, the government on Thursday ruled out a general closure of industry. However, FFP2 respirators will be required in the workplace, unless staff are working alone or from home. Employers must provide respirators for their staff. 

Employee testing will begin on a voluntary basis from March 1st, funded by the state up to four tests per month for each employee, for all companies and the self-employed. This will become mandatory when capacity is in place for a comprehensive testing system, according to Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlíček (ANO).

Other changes

The required length of quarantine and self-isolation will return to 14 days, due to the increased level of contagion of the so-called British and South African mutations. As announced yesterday, doubled surgical masks will no longer be accepted in indoor public spaces.

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