Amidst growing fears of the spread of coronavirus, the National Security Council on Wednesday moved to bring the situation under greater control announcing that respirators will be centrally purchased and distributed to those most in need. The prime minister said the council would issue directives which must be respected in all regions and appealed to the public to help the effort by limiting travel, the Airbnb business and not taking unnecessary risks.
Since the Czech health authorities reported the first three cases of coronavirus infection in the Czech Republic on Sunday –the topic has exploded in the Czech media and on social networks where it is analysed from every conceivable angle 24 hours a day. It was also hotly debated in the Chamber of Deputies where opposition MPs criticized the government for failing to take fast and coordinated action to prevent a further spread of the virus.
On Wednesday morning, following a meeting of the National Security Council, Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced new crisis measures which take effect immediately.
“The top priority right now is to secure a sufficient number of respirators and disinfectants primarily for those in the front line. So we are introducing a centralized purchase and distribution system under which FFP3 type respirators will primarily go to health and social facilities, public health agencies, rescue services and other state administration bodies. There is also a ban on the export of such respirators, as there is on disinfectants. We will moreover regulate their price in order to stop unethical price gauging.”
The prime minister hit out at unscrupulous profiteers who bought up large amounts of respirators, now badly needed by medical facilities and are selling them for the price of 5,000 crowns apiece. He appealed to the public to stay calm, stop panic buying and help the authorities by limiting travel and not taking unnecessary risks. He stressed that the Czech Republic still “only” has five confirmed cases of the coronavirus and all had been contracted in Italy – there has been no person-to-person transfer of the disease in this country as yet.
“As I see it the biggest risk is from foreigners who visit the country and use Airbnb accommodation. These people’s steps are hard to trace when you are trying to identify others they came into contact with. We need to gain some control of who is in the country and where they are accommodated. We need to identify trains coming in from high-risk locations and hotels and motels need to be more vigilant and adhere to strict rules when it comes to dealing with emergencies – such as the need to impose a quarantine on all the guests and have the place disinfected.”
The prime minister said that despite the gravity of the situation there was no need to panic. He said that for the present time there would be no ban on large-scale public events, although those with an attendance of over 5,000 people would need to report to the local hygiene office for approval. He said the decision that the World Cup biathlon races in Nové Město na Moravě would take place without spectators was made in view of the fact that it was an event expected to attract 100,000 people and had last taken place in Italy.
At a meeting in Prague on Wednesday the Visegrad Group prime ministers agreed on a fast exchange of information relating to the health crisis and said that if needed they would provide emergency deliveries of health supplies to a member in need. (The Czech Republic has five confirmed cases of coronavirus, Poland one, while Slovakia and Hungary have no registered cases so far.)
Meanwhile, large cities such as Prague, Brno and Ostrava have announced that they will be disinfecting trams and busses on a daily basis with ozone and in Prague all metro and tram doors will automatically open at all stops in the city, letting in fresh air and saving passengers from touching potentially-tainted open-door buttons with a bare finger.
Given the attention devoted to the problem and the amount of time people spend talking about it, it is somewhat surprising that face masks and respirators on Prague streets are few and far between.