Czechs had been assured it wouldn’t happen again. But amid a record surge of COVID-19 infections that’s threatening the entire health system with collapse, the Czech Republic is adopting on Thursday exactly the same massive restrictions it slapped on citizens in the spring.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis had repeatedly said these measures would never return.
“We have no time to wait,” Babis explained Wednesday. “The surge is enormous.”
Babis apologized for the huge impact the restrictions will have on everyday life but said if they were not taken “our health system would collapse between Nov 7-11.”
“I apologize even for the fact that I ruled out this option in the past because I was not able to imagine it might happen,” he added. “Unfortunately, it has happened and now, above all, we have to protect the lives of our citizens.”
The measures include limits on free movement and the closure of many stores, shopping malls and hotels. They will remain in place until at least Nov 3.
As the pandemic struck slightly later than in western Europe, Czech authorities gained some breathing space. They used it to impose sweeping restrictions on daily life in March, and unlike most other European countries made mask-wearing obligatory in all public areas.
In April, the country was the first, with Austria, to start to ease restrictions and again unlike most other European countries almost completely abandoned them in the summer.
n June, thousands declared victory over the coronavirus at a big party on Prague’s medieval Charles Bridge. Babis, considered a populist leader, was jubilant and told an international conference in August that his country was the “best in COVID,” despite already growing numbers of infected people.
The atmosphere at Wednesday’s news conference, as Babis announced the new measures, was more sober.
“What happened was somehow predicted but nobody expected its scope,” Babis said.