Face mask on a Prague tram / via iStock

Czech Republic may go back to wearing masks sooner rather than later, health officials say

Experts also warn caution when traveling abroad, saying travel increases risk of exposure

Czech residents may have to start wearing masks again come the fall, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic develops across the country and across Europe, top health officials report.

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“This is definitely something we will ponder on in order to prevent the infection spread at a time when a number of other respiratory viruses will be circulating in the country, and when the situation will be more difficult to tackle than now,” Health Minister Adam Vojtech (for ANO) told CTK on Tuesday when asked about the possible reintroduction of face masks.

He added that he does not expect face masks to be reintroduced outdoors.

Right now, face masks are only mandatory on the Prague metro and public transit in places with higher number of COVID-19 cases, like the Moravia-Silesia Region and the Jihlava district in south Moravia.

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In addition, you have to wear face masks in hospitals, retirement homes and indoor events with more than 100 people.

The coronavirus pandemic has been improving in the Czech Republic, though more than 4,500 people are infected with COVID-19.

Major cities like Prague and Brno have reported stable numbers without a significant increase of infected citizens. However, select regions across the country have ongoing outbreaks which are cause for concern, including the Karviná, Jihlava and Kutná Hora regions. These regions have stricter regulations in place to curb the spread of the virus, including mandatory use of face masks.

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The virus may still be limited to local outbreaks, said epidemiologist Jan Kynčl from the State Health Institute, but the public needs to remain cautious when traveling through the Czech Republic and abroad on vacation.

“A significant part of positive cases is caused by finding contacts and a large part is people without signs of the disease, who can spread the infection to a limited extent, but the risk is slightly lower than in an obviously ill person,” Kynčl told Seznam Zpravy. In Karviná, for example, the outbreak spread quickly due to family members of the miners.

How Czech residents behave when they travel will play a big part in the spread of the virus as well, Kynčl said. The water droplets containing the virus can spread in warm weather as well.

In July, so far, nine Czechs traveling abroad contracted the novel coronavirus. Three of those cases came from Slovakia, two from Sweden and one each from Croatia, Britain, Hungary, and Serbia.

“We are a little more exposed by traveling. But it’s about a compromise — some people are a little irresponsible — they feel like it’s already won and nothing is happening at all,” Kynčl said. “At that moment, they basically do not observe a certain social distance — at the same time they should be careful.”

When traveling, it’s important to avoid crowded places, observe social distancing, wash your hands, and remain cautious.

“The infection is here and will probably be for some time, so you need to protect yourself and limit the number of contacts,” Kynčl said.

Right now, the country does not have a big problem, but in the coming months, experts will continue to reassess the situation, Kynčl said.

“I definitely don’t think we would have a big problem in the Czech Republic in three days,” he predicted. “But I can’t say what the situation will be like at the turn of July and August.”

Face masks were first introduced on March 19. The measures were slowly softened starting on May 25.

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