International newspapers have been closely monitoring the Czech Republic as it slowly relaxes its measures to contain the coronavirus.
UK newspapers The Financial Times and The Guardian as well as US-based The Wall Street Journal have examined the response to crisis in the Czech Republic and its next steps as it starts to reopen its economy.
And while they newspapers praised the country for swift and effective actions, they also cited sources that urged caution in reopening the country too quickly.
The Financial Times in its article “How central and eastern Europe contained coronavirus” took a mostly positive look at the Czech Republic’s efforts.
The FT found that western and southern Europe had not fared well, the countries in central and eastern Europe avoided daily death tolls in thousands.
“The transcontinental divide is striking. So far, Spain has recorded 517 deaths per million people, Italy 453, France 353, and the UK 325. By contrast, Slovakia has recorded 4, Poland 16, the Czech Republic 21 and Austria 65. On Tuesday [April 28] alone, Spain, Italy and the UK all suffered more deaths than the Czech Republic, Hungary, or Slovakia have recorded during the entire crisis,” FT pointed out.
The newspaper attributes the success in part to the crisis starting later. People in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other CEE countries were able to see the toll that virus had already taken in Italy, where early warning signs were ignored.
“The virus came to central Europe later, but they also used this time better. There wasn’t any of the misguided exceptionalism we saw in the UK. No one [in CEE] looked at Italy and said: that would never happen to us,” Olga Löblová, a public health researcher at Cambridge university, told FT.
The article recounted the speed with which borders were closed and non-essential trips were banned. Experts cites these as crucial steps to slowing the virus, while in the UK large public events with thousands of participants still took place after the first coronavirus cases were reported.
The speed of adopting masks was also mentioned as being crucial. “Masks may also have played an important role. Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria all quickly required citizens to wear masks outside their homes, even though organisations such as the World Health Organization were not advising such steps,” FT stated. The newspaper went on to cite Czech epidemiologist and Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula, who said that face masks were “one of the most important measures.”
The Guardian in its article “Danes and Czechs say easing lockdowns has produced no Covid-19 surge” looked at the relative success of those two countries in limiting the impact of the virus, and the start of attempts to get society back to normal.
But the article tries not to be overly optimistic. Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organization in Europe, is quoted by The Guardian as urging caution. “As I have said before, this virus is unforgiving,” he told The Guardian. “We must remain vigilant, persevere and be patient – and ready to ramp up measures again as and when needed.”
Christian Wejse, a scientist at the department of infectious diseases at Aarhus University, however said he saw no signs that a partial reopening in Denmark has caused a bigger spread of infection. “At least there is no indication that we are heading into another wave. That has been the concern, but I can’t see that at all,” he said.
They also quoted Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtěch, who said that the staggered reopening of shops and services had not led to a surge in infections. “So far we do not see a negative trend resulting from previous relaxations,” Vojtěch said. “We will proceed with caution, gradually in the upcoming waves, and I believe we are on a good path.”
Outdoor seating at restaurants and pubs is set to start on May 11, for example, and events for up to 100 people can take place. More places including restaurant interiors, theaters, castles and chateaux can reopen as of May 25.
The Guardian article also recounted efforts in Germany, which is taking a slow approach to reopening, as well as moves in Spain, France and Italy, which had been hard hit by the virus and are just taking initial steps.
The Wall Street Journal in an article titled “Countries That Kept a Lid on Coronavirus Look to Each Other to Revive Their Economies” looked beyond the Czech response and instead focused on the future of tourism.
Eight countries whose economies depended on tourism — Australia, Austria, Israel, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece and New Zealand — have started exploring making an alliance to help each other. Each of the countries has managed to limit the effects of the virus and has been looking to reopen the economy.
This group has banded together to discuss allowing cross-border tourism with the other members. This would mean that all the countries would agree to “mandatory wearing of masks, mass testing, social distancing, and keep[ing] borders closed to countries where the virus is still spreading rapidly,” WSJ reported.
The plan, though, has met with a cool reception for the European Union, which prefers a more unified approach across the 27-member bloc. Four of the countries in the group are EU members. Germany had been invited to the group, but declined. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that a European contest of who allows tourist trips first will lead to unjustifiable risks.
Professor Markus Müller, rector of the Vienna Medical University and an adviser to the Austrian government, said the restart of tourism would help to restore a sense of normalcy, but the countries need to be vigilant against a second wave of infection.
The countries in the alliance would also coordinate manufacturing so they would be less dependent on China for face masks, testing kits and other items to combat this and future diseases.