We're Closed, Sorry!

A brief history of Czech pandemic

The Czech Republic forms a black sheep in European measures of COVID handling. I regret it is true, but I think that it is necessary to explain how did we come to this state. Similarly to ours the foreign media tend to select interesting and shocking information instead of explaining the whole context. So let's have a look on what has happened here and in what context it was happening.

I think it is more than symbolic to do such a retrospective look right now since in a few days we will "celebrate" one year anniversary of first Czech lockdown. And we will also start here. But, at first I owe you a few numbers because only through numbers we can compare totally different countries. The most important number is the number of inhabitants of the Czech Republic: it is approximately 10.7 millions. Remaining numbers which appear in this article may be found on the website of Ministry of Health or in a large source of all included images – SeznamZprávy.cz. Unfortunately all linked resources are available in Czech only but they may be easily translated to English in quite good quality by Google.

Note: All images included in the article are screenshots taken from SeznamZprávy.cz. They are used in this way for the purpose of archival of actual data. Intentionally they are not translated to keep their authenticity. The translation of included texts is: “Vývoj pozitivních případů v čase” - “The Development of Positive Cases in Time”; “Nových případů za den” - “New cases per day” (red bars); “Případů celkem” - “Total number of cases” (blue line). The imeges refer as the source of the data “Zdroj: Ministerstvo zdravotnictví ČR” - “Source: Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic.”

One year ago, the first wave of COVID-19 came to the Czech Republic together with people coming home from all over the world. The rise of infected people was really fast and exactly so fast was the reaction of our government. A two months long lockdown was declared after which we came back to "normal" life. During the whole “first wave of COVID” the peak amount of infected per day was 377.

Then we have lived through June and on July 1st the vacation has begun. No children were at schools, people went to holidays etc. During the summer the numbers slowly started to get worse again. In the middle of August we have reached 500 of newly infected people per day, which was more than at the peak of the first wave. The Europe started to see, that there is something wrong here. The government’s reaction was surprising. They did nothing.

The next important date is September 1st. On this day the vacation in Czech republic ends, many people return to work and children return to their schools. Until then the numbers of infected people were rising and the only government’s activity were arguments about wearing or not wearing face masks. As a result the only restriction was that people should wear face masks in buildings and public transport. So, on September 1st all children went to schools. In the day, when we had 499 newly infected people.

But the virus did not wait. One week after that, we had 1 164 newly infected people per day. More that twice as much as on September 1st. Exactly on that day the WHO warned against the situation in the Czech Republic. Government’s reaction? Nothing except introduction of AntiPandemic System (ProtiEpidemický Systém - “PES” in Czech; the word “pes” translated into English means “dog”), which should act as pandemic regulator by semi-automatic introduction of governmental restrictions.

One further week passed and we were on 1 674 newly infected people. One week after that the government forbade the presence of students at Universities and some higher education schools as the reaction to recent trend of the pandemic.

Within the next month the number of newly infected people per day rose to incredible 9 544 - almost 0.1 per cent of the number of inhabitants of the Czech Republic within one day. On that day all schools were closed and children went to remote education. A lot of new restrictions appeared – many businesses were closed including pubs and smaller shops.

With some time delay (approximately 10 days, which is given by incubation time of COVID) the increase of the number of newly infected people per day started to slow down and on November 4th we came to the peak of what we call second wave of COVID. On that day, there were 15 729 newly diagnosed cases. Almost 0.15 per cent of our inhabitants.

Nevertheless, the numbers started to drop then and the government decided to let children of first and second classes of the elementary schools to come back to schools. In situation when we had more than 5000 new infected cases per day.

After that day, the drop of the number of newly diagnosed cases started to slow down, yet further children were ordered to go to schools on November 30th.

One week after the schools were opened for first and second classes, the number of new cases of COVID was 4 931. On November 30th the amount of new cases dropped to 3 572. Approximately one million of children went to schools, pubs and shops were re-opened. In situation when the reproduction number rose from 0.72 to 0.93 within two weeks.

The reaction of the virus was fast. After one week the amount of new cases per day rose to 4 251. The governments starts to talk about restrictions.

After next week the amount of new cases rose to 5 176. The government warns people, that they should avoid contacts with older people. And it still talks about restrictions.

The Christmas vacation for children started by decision of the government a few days earlier, on December 21st, when we had 7 950 new cases per day.

But the time constant of the disease is relentless and one day before Christmas Eve we have reached 14 138 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19. The data from next two weeks are strongly unreliable as there were many days during which the testing capacities were limited.

Although there was not enough information it was reasonable to predict that the numbers will not be optimistic. The conclusion was closing all businesses except beverages again but ordering to send children of first and second classes of elementary schools back to school on January 4th. On that day we had 12 952 new cases. 0.12 per cent of all inhabitants of the Czech Republic.

For some time the numbers were rising to the peak of the third wave – 17 767 new cases on January 6th.

The situation after that was affected only by minor changes. It was allowed to sell clothes for children, stationeries were opened. Thus, everything except beverages had to be bought over the internet. For some time the numbers were lowering as an after-effect of winter vacation, but this direction turned within three weeks and we have never reached in peak less than 8000 newly infected people per day. In next weeks it was also influenced by Brigita – the British mutation of COVID.

The government introduced an updated version of antipandemic system PES, which should avoid overloading of hospitals. In fact, this system was all the time modified according to interest of each ministry, so it was never working in its entirety. This kind of handling of PES was also criticized by one of its co-authors.

Since March 1st the schools are closed again, we have a large lockdown when we cannot leave even the area of our city and for travelling out we need an affidavit. This restriction came in situation when we had 12 323 of new cases, which means, that each day approximately 0.12 per cent of our inhabitants got infected by COVID. In comparison - at schools in three regions a testing of children was tried and it discovered about 2 per cent of positive attendees. 66 per cent higher than the average of the whole republic.

Currently it seems, that we have gone through peak numbers, up to now the peak of the fourth wave had 16 775 of new cases.

But, what is more important is the status of our hospitals. Their capacity is estimated to be around 10 000 people. When we have a look at the amount of hospitalized people, we are currently at the edge of what is possible to do there – we have more than 9000 people lying in hospitals with COVID-19. The reason is simple - the rise of infected people was since January so high, that the hospitals did not have a chance to cure enough people to be prepared for the fourth wave. People from the most critically affected regions are transported over the whole republic to hospitals with free places just because the government does not want to use help offered by German hospitals, although they are often less than 40 kilometers away.

Where are we now? Currently we have 164 154 of confirmed active cases of COVID. 1.53 per cent of all inhabitants of the Czech Republic. Only today, the rise is 14 920 of new cases. This is more than ten times more than in Germany. The disease was confirmed in 1 392 108 cases, which means that at least 13 per cent of Czech people had COVID-19. 23 083 people died with this disease, which is 0.22 per cent of all inhabitants.

Yet the industry is running and the government does not want to close any company, although a general testing of all employees is required. This is the only reaction to a fact that some companies ignore the pandemic and want people to go to work even with the infection. Thus, one cannot wonder that people are frustrated. As a result, this week a man committed suicide right in front of Czech Ministry of Health. Up to now nothing was published about his past, his motivation or even his name. Painfully similar to case of Jan Palach in 1969.

Now you have a lot of information to think about. Please consider it when you read about Czech people who do not follow governmental restrictions and be sure, that the percentage of such people is negligible. The worst decisions and pressure come from above.

We definitely would like to do better, but we can’t. Sorry.