March in Central Europe: a year into the pandemic in the Czech Republic3 min read

 In Central Europe, Civil Society, COVID-19, Editorial
It has been a year since the first person died from COVID-19 in the Czech Republic. On 22 March 2021, the Czech civic organisation Million Moments for Democracy commemorated this sad anniversary by painting white crosses all over Old Town Square in Prague in memory of the people who died from COVID-19 and to point out the mishandling of the pandemic by the government–the death toll in the Czech Republic is one of the highest in the EU.

At the end of February people were expecting another lockdown to be introduced to prevent hospitals’ total collapse. Due to the steadily worsening situation, Germany closed its borders with the Czech Republic in mid-February. Then, the country made it to CNN as a case study of how not to do things. Finally, at the beginning of March, new and stricter measures were introduced and instantly criticised by the experts as insufficient.

As a result, most companies are (finally) obliged to test employees before entering the workplace, and people are not allowed to travel between districts unless they have a valid reason. On the other hand, many experts strongly advise the government to temporarily close all factories and make the mandatory testing of employees more frequent, which the government refused.

Although the rest of the EU is talking about easing restrictions and countries such as the UK are breaking their own vaccination records with every passing day, it is now clear that there is no hope for the government loosening measures in the Czech Republic before the Easter holidays. Similarly, the pace of vaccination does not paint a more optimistic picture (based on the currently available data, the author of this article will likely get vaccinated anytime between August this year or April 2021). When asked about the steps that led the country to such a situation, several experts agree that one of the main problems was the politics involved in the decision making.

At the beginning of October 2020, there was a local and senate election held. The number of people infected with COVID-19 started to rise even before that.  Still, the government did not introduce measures that the experts recommended, and the epidemic got out of control. Unfortunately, politics did not end there. The parliamentary election is coming this autumn, and the election had already been announced by the president in December the previous year, meaning that the election campaign had already started. Thus, political parties were less willing to seek compromise in decision making.

Recent polls show that the support for the populist party ANO 2011, currently the strongest party in the parliament, is steadily decreasing due to the pandemic. However, as the vaccination progresses, we might see a different turn of events, as the party is mainly supported by the older demographics, the first priority for vaccination. However, with the situation far from controlled, there is no doubt that an election campaign with the potential to do much harm is ahead. Also, it remains to be seen what kind of government will emerge in the autumn to deal with the chaos currently in place and, most importantly, with the economy’s restoration.

Featured image: Czech Republic / Teet Ottin
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