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Analysis: How the Czech Republic slipped into a Covid disaster, one misstep at a time

February 28, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 25.9%. 3 min read.

KARVINA, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 11: A healthcare worker takes care of a patient in the Covid-19 ward at Hospital Karvina-Raj on January 11, 2020 in Karvina, Czech Republic. The hospital has been overwhelmed by recent mounting numbers of Covid-19 patients as new confirmed COVID-19 infections reach record highs. The Czech Republic has had over 13,000 Covid-19 deaths and reported over 4,000 new cases yesterday. (Photo by Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)

On an epidemiological map of the world, the Czech Republic shows up as a tiny island of doom and gloom. While the global number of new coronavirus cases has been dropping for six consecutive weeks, the Central European nation of 10 million has been experiencing near record levels of new infections.

"The government has adopted an unfortunate strategy of making decisions based on the current hospital capacities, which means they often come too late," said Jan Kulveit, senior research scholar at the Future of Humanity Institute, a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Oxford, in England.

He said the number of patients in hospitals paints a delayed picture of the epidemic, because people tend to end up needing medical attention some time after getting infected.

Speaking in the Parliament on Friday, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš admitted his government has made "far too many mistakes," but said it was not the time to argue about the past.

The first came when the government overruled its own advisers, including Maďar himself, and refused to reinstate a mask mandate in the summer; the second when it decided to reopen shops ahead of Christmas; and the third when it failed to react to the new variant popping up in early January.

"Many European countries experienced a second wave, the Czech Republic wasn't unique in that," Kulveit said.

"The opposition was keen to capitalize on this too, criticizing the measures, calling face masks 'muzzles' and questioning why we should wear them when the case numbers are still low," Maďar said.

"They didn't withstand the pressure and agreed to start lifting some restrictions so that people could go out and do their Christmas shopping, despite the fact that infections were still higher than when the lockdown was imposed," Maďar said.

"The government isn't listening to the experts and is dealing with the pandemic based on its political needs and when the measures are being explained to the public, it's done by politicians, mostly by the Prime Minister, which means that a part of the public is prone to boycott the rules for political reasons," Dzúrová said.

"Again, this is not unique to the Czech Republic, but there seem to be more people who believe in conspiracy theories and think the risk from the virus has been overblown," Kulveit said.

"People saw the cost of the measures but not the virus, so there was a huge spike in the voices doubting the seriousness of the disease and of the situation and that is not something you would see in a country that has experienced thousands of deaths," Kulveit said.

Dzúrová and Maďar said the country didn't pay enough attention to the new variant, not sequencing enough samples to figure out how widespread the new strain was and how to stop it from spreading across the country.

"The measures that are in place right now are strong enough to suppress the original variants of the coronavirus, but not the new, more infectious variants," Kulveit said.

Factories are open and people are traveling to work on public transport, and this could lead to collapse of the health care system," Maďar said.

"I fear that big part of the Czech public still doesn't understand how bad the situation is and what is truly horrifying is that some people seem to have accepted the fact that we are seeing 100, 150 people die unnecessarily each day, and they don't see it as something that's alarming, but as something that is natural and inevitable, when in fact it is a complete tragedy," Dzúrova said.

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