The total number of deaths related to COVID-19 has surpassed more than 25,000 people this year, more than doubling since the start of 2021. “When the COVID-19 pandemic started in the spring of 2020, the Czech Republic was able to handle it very well thanks to its good public healthcare system and epidemiology control.” Dr. Ivana Vancurova, a professor of Biological Sciences at St. John’s University in New York explained in an interview with The Borgen Project. Early last year, the Czech Republic was initially praised for its swift response to the pandemic. However, since the start of the virus, the country has faced its fair share of challenges as well.
The Rise of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic
Dr. Vancurova equates the rise in cases to travel over the summer and the gathering of large groups over Christmas. In the month of March alone, the Czech Republic saw around 194 deaths each day from complications related to the coronavirus. Statistics also showed a 15% increase in the number of deaths in 2020 throughout the country. The increase came mainly in the final three months of 2020 when a second wave of the pandemic began to hit and continued into 2021. Needless to say, the “country of 10.7 million has been one of the countries” most affected by the pandemic. Additionally, it “has the world’s second-highest per capita death toll.”
As a result of this, the Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, fired his third health minister over the course of six months in April 2021. This comes as the government continues to grapple with the outbreak and a difficult vaccination rollout. Petr Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, is the most recent of the three health ministers. Arenberger replaced Jan Blatny and was sworn in by President Milos Zeman.
Politics and the Pandemic
President Milos Zeman must officially sign off on any government changes. He said former health minister Blatny made the pandemic worse by refusing to use Russian and Chinese vaccines although the European Union had not yet authorized them. As a politician who has repeatedly clashed with the government due to his pro-Russian and pro-Chinese stance, Zeman encouraged the new health minister to change the cabinet’s position on the matter, “Each one of us should make sure that we have as many effective vaccines as possible,” he told Arenberger.
Primer Minister Babis is facing a lot of pressure before the October ballot after failing to contain the resurgence of the virus that eventually made the country the world’s most lethal nation per capita. “The Czech Communist party is threatening to pull its support in parliament […] due to differences over local political issues.”
Aid for COVID-19 in the Czech Republic
Much like other areas of the world, the Czech Republic has had to deal with the consequences of the virus and its spread, particularly in terms of poverty. Dr. Vancurova says “ Like all other countries, the Czech Republic is trying to balance the restrictive measures with the impact on the economy.” The director of the Czech NGO People in Need Šimon Pánek said “In the Czech Republic the problems are getting deeper, quicker and more severe.” He continued, “Our expectation is that at least 10,000 kids were completely cut off from any contact with their school and any education support. So, [the organization]offered a helping hand to this type of families.”
So far, the organization has “collected almost 20 million crowns” (around $800,000) to assist with its mission. It also received $400,000 thousand from foundations and the corporate sector. Pánek said that the $1.2 to $1.3 million budget for next year to a year and a half will come “from the public and business donations.” A number of charities and businesses have also stepped in to support people with food or clothing during these difficult times.
Homelessness During COVID-19
The country has also been trying to work with its homeless population to contain the spread as well as assist its citizens in need. Prague’s City Hall rented a number of luxury hotels where homeless people who contract COVID-19 or those who come into contact with someone with the virus can isolate and get treatment. The city’s Centre of Social Services (CSSP) deputy director Ludmila Tomesova said that those at the hotel received “three meals a day, full medical attention” and other amenities during their illness. The hotels are full at all times, Tomesova mentioned that “Prague, which has about 4,500 homeless people,” and is trying to rehabilitate those after they recover.
Another charity “group called Místní Místním or Locals for Locals, launched in October.” It has partnered “with other NGOs and food establishments to deliver baguettes to those who may not be able to afford food or may have to choose between food and other necessities.” Ester Pacltová, the founder of the organization, explained that this was important for organizations to aid the homeless population because restrictions made things more challenging.
Místní Místním wants to raise awareness about issues that homeless people are facing during COVID-19. Pacltová said, “They are losing their seasonal jobs, ways of getting food, options where to get some small amounts of money or leftovers from restaurants and friends. We need information, enough hygiene, early and free COVID testing and quarantine.” These are not accessible to the homeless.
Though the country is facing many challenges, its support from its NGOs and its people provides a glimmer of hope for its citizens. Dr. Vancurova believes that vaccinations are an essential step in overcoming COVID-19 in the Czech Republic. “Since the virus does not respect any borders, it will be crucial that individual countries cooperate and coordinate their vaccination efforts.”
– Elisabeth Petry