‘The only solution is vaccination,’ said the Czech PM
Under surprise new rules announced on Wednesday, unvaccinated Czechs will not be able to attend public events or enter restaurants, pubs or other services from next week.
Only evidence of completed vaccination or previous Covid-19 infection within the last six months will be accepted, putting an end to the era of mass precautionary Covid testing in the country.
The change will come into effect from Monday after approval by the government tomorrow. Children under 18 will be exempt from the rule, meaning they can still present Covid tests as proof that they are not infectious.
The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, claimed the new rules were necessary because “the only solution is vaccination”, as he said that the majority of Covid patients in Czech hospitals were unvaccinated.
The move is bound to be controversial in a country with relatively high levels of vaccine scepticism: less than two-thirds of the Czech population is fully vaccinated.
Indeed, few predicted a lockdown for the unvaccinated ahead of today’s announcement, despite rapidly rising case numbers.
Yet it seems the government has finally been forced to act after the Czech Republic’s highest ever number of cases in a single day was also announced on Wednesday, with more than 22,400 infections confirmed.
Almost 70 per cent of the new cases recorded were in people who had not yet had a single dose of a Covid vaccine.
Spiralling case numbers are also bringing back memories of a widely criticised relaxation of lockdown measures during the festive season last year, which was blamed for a subsequent spike of cases and deaths after the new year.
It was hoped that vaccination would stop the worst effects of the virus repeating themselves this time round, but worryingly, Covid-related deaths are now also significantly increasing in the country.
A total of 95 Covid deaths were confirmed on Wednesday – a much higher incidence rate than has been seen since lockdown restrictions were removed in the UK, given that the Czech population is six times smaller.
The new measures are therefore clearly intended as a last-resort step to encourage more people to get vaccinated. The Czech government has become increasingly concerned about low vaccine coverage in recent weeks, and has also launched a visceral promotional campaign for vaccination, which includes pictures of dead bodies in Covid wards.
The country’s incoming administration has complained about the sudden implementation of the new measures, arguing that they should have been consulted as they are due to replace Mr Babis’s outgoing government later this month.
But Mr Babis demanded they “stop playing politics” and instead “get involved in the solution”.