The Czech Republic and the Coronavirus Epidemic

Praise where praise is due. This goes well beyond politics. Actually, this is where partisan politics stops and the good of human beings is what matters. The Czech Republic has handled the Coronavirus epidemic extraordinarily well. We must say we are very surprised. The president and prime minister are oligarchs tainted by allegations of corruption and right-of-center parties hold a majority in the national government. Despite this, the Czech leadership took a very different path than did similar governments in the United Kingdom and United States. Instead of the bluster and denial spewed by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, the Czechs undertook a quiet, calm, systematic plan to protect the people from the epidemic.

In the Czech Republic, a testing plan was already in place when the first Covid-19 case was identified on 1 March and testing and preparation was expanded over the next ten days. When cases exceeded 100 on 10 March, with only six people in intensive care and zero deaths to that point, the Czech government announced travel restrictions from 15 countries. They also banned social gatherings of over 100 and announced schools would close the following week. Then on 12 March, they ordered restaurants to close each night at 8pm. The next day, the government further announced that they would close the borders in three days and further limited public gatherings to under 30 people. Then, on 14 March, they closed all stores, restaurants, pubs, and other public and commercial spaces with the exception of food stores, banks, and pharmacies. People were allowed out only to obtain necessary items, such as food or medical care, and they were required to wear nose and mouth coverings, even if it was just a scarf. There still had not been a single Covid-19 death.

The step-by-step orderly shut down of the country, before a single fatality and before hospitals were overrun, saved lives. These actions were accompanied by immediate measures to financially assist people. Within a week, the government instituted a loan program to small businesses and the self-employed. It approved delays for paying mortgages, rent, and loans to anyone affected by the coronavirus. It also suspended for six months and permanently forgave payments from individuals to social security and the national health service (yes, Americans, in Czech Republic we get single-payer healthcare). It put in place funds to compensate employers to pay up to 80% of employees’ wages. Plans and programs were put in place and clearly communicated to people.

The results can be vividly seen.

covid-19 numbers 4-30
Covid-19 numbers 4-30

We see similar results in countries like Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Finland, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, who have a mere fraction of infection and death rates of countries that choose to squeeze a few more days or weeks of economic profits out before taking action to protect the population.

Yet, despite choosing the health of people over the profits of large corporations, the Czech Republic is suffering less economically. There have been no supply shortages (except for hand sanitizer and face masks outside hospitals), unemployment is still below 4%, no one has lost their home.

The Czech government isn’t perfect, but they handles the coronavirus epidemic very well. This week, some stores reopened. New Covid-19 cases are increasing at only 80 a day.  We will be back to a reasonably normal life in six weeks. The US and UK may not have even peaked in their epidemics by then. It all comes down to choices and political will.

 

Source material: https://news.expats.cz/coronavirus-in-the-czech-republic/breaking-czech-republic-to-close-borders-from-march-16-barring-residents-from-leaving-and-tourists-from-entering/. https://news.expats.cz/coronavirus-in-the-czech-republic/cabinet-approves-delays-in-mortgage-and-loan-payments-and-proposes-a-hold-on-evictions/

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