Festivals including the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival are unlikely to take place this summer, but some Czech hotels as well as castles and chateaux may reopen so people can have some sort of vacation. But theatrical performances and concerts probably won’t start until after the holidays end, according to Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula (for ANO).
Schools will probably remain closed until the end of June, he added, and the obligation to wear a face mask will extend at least until autumn.
Prymula, who is also a medical doctor, also said he expects a spike in new cases of people infected with novel coronavirus in the coming 10 days, due to people abusing the loosened restrictions over the four-day Easter weekend.
“Those four days were a touchstone: some measures were relaxed, and people were informed that the whole system was working, that we had managed to stabilize the increase, the infection curve had not grown exponentially. But on the other hand, it failed — many people basically started abusing it immediately,” he told news server Seznam.cz.
“Face masks were not used where they were supposed to be used. Even the social distance was considerably shorter than needed. … And for me it has a certain signal that will be reflected in the assessment of the situation in some seven to 10 days. Next Monday, in my opinion, those [infection] numbers will go up,” he said.
He mentioned that the government hoped people would wait outside newly reopened stores and not all crowd into confined spaces at once, but that wasn’t what happened. He called the outcome of reopening some hobby stores “absolutely undesirable,” and added that the government would have to take this into account in future plans to open more types of shops such as shoe stores and hairdressers.
The coronavirus reproduction rate has fallen below 1.0, meaning that each infected person infects less than one other person. This situation would eventually lead to the virus dying out. Prymula expects the rate to go back above 1.0 due to people ignoring the rules for masks and social distancing.
As for making plans for the summer, Prymula urges people to wait. Summer festivals likely won’t occur as large groups won’t be permitted for months to come. This also includes the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, scheduled for July 3–11. (Febiofest, which had been slated for March 19–27 has already been rescheduled to September 18–25, and the Metronome Prague – Music and Arts Fair, originally scheduled for June 18–20, will take place September 17–19.)
Prymula said he hopes to allow domestic hotels and accommodation to reopen so people in the Czech Republic can have some sort of summer vacation. Allowing people from outside the Czech Republic to enter for tourism though so far is not being discussed. He also does not recommend for people in the Czech Republic to plan to go abroad just yet.
The situation is changing rapidly. “I would wait, say, until May 15, when we will know a lot more. By then, many of these measures should be relaxed,” he said, adding that he hoped the infection curve would remain under control by then.
Tours of castles and chateaux could start some time in the summer, under strictly defined circumstances, and the government is looking for some ways to allow restaurants to reopen. But theaters are more complicated, as they require people to be in a confined space. Most likely, they will not open during the summer.
As for schools, it is an issue of both epidemiology and public perception. People don’t want schools to reopen, and 80,000 people have signed a petition calling for them to remain closed. “The population today is relatively negative for schools to open in the current school year. So it may really happen that schools will not be open by the end of June, depending on the moods that are now in place,” he said. The government is still considering the topic, and looking into some type of voluntary reopening.
The situation should change somewhat by September, due in part to a “smart quarantine” that is being introduced, but the coronavirus is likely to still be present. Prymula would like to see schools reopen, with people still wearing face masks, but this needs to be discussed by the government.
“[The virus] will not disappear in the fall and will not disappear even in the fall of next year. The virus will be here. And logically, we must use measures that are tolerable, that do not totally break the economy, do not prevent people from going to school. I would much rather encourage people to go to school and work than to give up their face masks. Therefore, I think that we will keep those masks even longer,” he said.
The virus does not seem to be seasonal, and it will not disappear in the foreseeable future. People will need to learn to live with it, he said.
Prymula is an epidemiologist, and head of the Czech Vaccine Society. From 2009 to ’16 he was director of the University Hospital Hradec Králové (FNHK). Since 2017 he has been deputy minister of health.