Czech Republic Goes Full Trump With COVID, Gets Crushed by 2nd Wave
As COVID-19 ravaged Europe this past spring, the Czech Republic was, without a doubt, the poster child for how to successfully beat the virus. With its strict national mask mandate and early shutdown, it recorded a mere 300 deaths in the first wave even as its neighbors recorded tens of thousands of virus fatalities.
Months later, it is now a case study in how to be recklessly cavalier toward the deadly disease.
By the beginning of October, the virus struck back in full force and Czech authorities recorded the highest number of deaths per 100,000 in the entire world. In one week, this country of 10.6 million lost almost 700 people to COVID-19. Hospitalizations shot up from a few hundred in September to a staggering 7,200 in the second half of this month.
The Czech government is now scrambling. After officials ordered the re-closure of restaurants and schools on Oct. 14, they also decided to set up two field hospitals—in Prague and in Brno, the second largest town in the country—designed exclusively for potential COVID-19 patients with a capacity of 800 beds. Still, fearing it might not be enough, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš declared a nightly curfew that went into effect on Wednesday, and is mulling a second lockdown.
The new wave of restrictions was met with concern, displeasure and anger. There have even been demonstrations in downtown Prague; in one case, the police had to disperse the crowd of a few hundred with tear gas. Police choppers hung high above in the sky monitoring the strife. Some in the crowd held signs like “Stop COVID Hoax” or “Masks=Muzzle.”
Otherwise the streets of the capital are largely deserted and quiet, including Wenceslas Square where the famous Velvet Revolution protests took place in 1989 which led to the fall of the Communist regime. On the first day before the curfew, the square was eerily empty.
The country didn’t have to find itself in this alarming situation, epidemiologists say. Some warned the government for weeks and months on end. Instead, the officials declared early in the summer a premature victory and people dropped all precautions, feeling relieved and joyous.
Evolutionary biologist Jaroslav Flegr didn’t share the collective giddiness after the country managed to get the disease under control during the first wave in the spring. He knew that the virus was still lurking in society and would return with lethal force come autumn. Walking the streets of Prague during the summer, the biologist was in shock at what he was seeing. No one was wearing a mask, people swarmed popular beer gardens and disregarded social distancing, and many businesses didn’t have hand sanitizers available anymore. There was even a massive feast on the famous Charles Bridge at the end of June where 2,000 people sat at long tables, munching on roasted geese, sandwiches and cakes. The guests made champagne toasts celebrating “the end of the virus.”
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