Plane model and face mask and flag Czech Republic. Coronavirus pandemic. Flight ban and closed borders for tourists and travelers with coronavirus covid-19.

Reality Check: Is The Czech Republic Complying With COVID-19 Measures?

Latvia plans to announce a three-month state of emergency as COVID-19 cases reach up to 1,700 for many days in a row. Slovakia’s daily cases jump to the highest numbers since March this year. Poland’s infection numbers are up by 70% in the last week, recording over 2,000 cases per day. Croatia’s numbers are rising, reaching 1,800 last Thursday. Credit: Freepik.

Czech Rep., Oct 11 (BD) – Last week’s numbers in the Czech Republic signal not such a different situation here.

After a rather stress-free summer in Europe with travel, holidays, and Saturday fun at bars and clubs, the winter breeze is upon us with worrisome headlines appearing on our morning news feed. While we have had to learn somehow how to live with the pandemic and many may be feeling less anxious about what is yet to come, there is still that unsettling feeling of the unknown.

More than 70% of the European population is now vaccinated. This should give us some relief or assurance about what kind of winter we should expect, but not so strongly, as epidemiologists warn about the “wave of the unvaccinated”, or the “wave of non-functional measures”.

Brno Daily has been asking what people think about the upcoming winter, based on their observations throughout the summer. Cultural venues, gyms, shops, restaurants, and most other businesses have had at least some measures to follow even after the pandemic situation got much better in the Czech Republic, and generally in Europe. From those we spoke to, it was possible to identify a new wave, the “wave of ‘nobody cares anymore’”. Many people do not comply with the measures unless they are strongly obliged to do so. 

Respondents to our public survey included both Czechs and foreigners, including several business owners from Prague, Ostrava, Brno, and elsewhere, and we collected both observations and statistical data on behaviour. (1 representing not at all, 2 representing rarely, 3 representing sometimes, 4 representing often, and 5 representing all the time.)

General Compliance

Research participants were asked whether they had been following the updates to the current anti-epidemic measures, and whether they had observed their friends, colleagues and family members doing the same. The majority of participants (77%) responded that they regularly follow updates to the anti-epidemic measures. On the other hand, 40% of the participants responded that their friends, colleagues and family members follow the measures only sometimes, and another 20% rarely or not at all.

Asked how they feel about the level of general compliance to anti-epidemic measures in the country in July and August 2021, most respondents (53.8%) described it as moderate, while none said that they had witnessed complete compliance with the rules.

Two participants from Prague commented that non-compliance with the measures is being exaggerated, following strict measures would be pointless during the summer, and that it is time to return to normality with the increasing vaccination numbers. On the other hand, several participants from both Prague and Brno disagreed, stating that government enforcement of the rules is needed, and the situation is underestimated by the residents:

There are the rules and then there’s the citizens pretty much ignoring them, and no real visible government enforcement at all.”

At this point it feels like people are following the measures as little as possible depending on the amount of trouble they can get into.”

I’ve been shocked at how little measures are followed here in comparison to other EU countries. Germany and Austria check vaccines or tests for everything. I’ve never been checked once in the Czech Republic.”

One participant complained of social pressure on those who are afraid of the pandemic, for observing the current measures. “I have lost two Czech friends who barely believe in the seriousness of COVID-19, and don’t take precautions, don’t believe in the vaccine,” they explained. “Another friend who considers me “too negative” to hang around, since I take Covid seriously. I am very disappointed in general. Perhaps it comes from the old mentality, to be rebellious and sceptical of rules.”

Social Life

84.6% of respondents had observed people not wearing masks in cafes, restaurants, and bars, at the cashier or toilets, in non-compliance with the current anti-COVID measures. A participant from Brno emphasised that there is “surprisingly low uptake of checks in bars, pubs and restaurants.”

People were also asked whether they had been asked to show either a negative COVID-19 test or a proof of vaccination while attending cultural and sports activities. 47.6% of the participants answered ‘not at all’ or ‘rarely’ to this question, 33.3% said ‘often’ and ‘all the time’, and 19% answered ‘sometimes’.

96.2% of the participants had never witnessed random health checks of social venues such as restaurants, cafes, gyms, pools, while only one participant had done, “sometimes”.

One participant from Prague stated that “No one checks anything. At my office, gym, restaurants, etc. I have never once been checked. The only check I ever experienced throughout June, July, August, September was at a Prague Pride event. Literally nowhere else.” Another participant added: “Servers don’t wear masks in restaurants, and no one wears a mask unless they technically have to. Nobody is doing anything extra to keep others safe.”

An exceptional experience was reported by a participant from Prague: “My local gym always checked my vaccination status, and recently entered it into the system,” while another said: “I have only been asked to show vaccination status or negative test when going to an outdoor pool. Otherwise, nobody cared at all.”

Another participant added that on the outskirts of the capital, there is comparatively lower compliance than in the city centre. “In Prague, cultural events I went to were always checked, compulsory masks etc. A gallery opening I went to in Bechyně – (inside, a lot of people) no checks, no masks.”

Public Transport

Although participants were not asked about compliance with the mask rule on public transport, many from all three big cities of the Czech Republic shared their thoughts about this issue. The general overarching view is that, especially in the capital city Prague, people have gradually stopped wearing masks on public transport – on trams, trains, buses, taxis, and others; and those with masks usually wear it under the chin. Two participants from Prague shared their experiences:

I take the rychlik from Prague – Ceske Budejovice regularly. Masks are often not worn on the train, and sometimes people are travelling in large groups, drinking and singing just like when there was no pandemic. Once I wanted to ask the ticket controller if there was a safer place to sit, but her mask was hanging under her nose, so I didn’t bother.

I somehow get the feeling that people here don’t even care about COVID any more. On my daily commute by tram through Prague, about a quarter don’t wear a mask, and at least half of people don’t wear an FFP2 mask.

These findings highlight a feeling that there is significant non-compliance with current anti-epidemic measures across the country, which is a source of worry to some but not to others. It is not yet known what kind of winter is awaiting the Czech Republic, but clearly many of its residents have had enough of the restrictions on everyday life. It is an open question for governments: what level of lockdown is necessary or justifiable when 70% of the adult population are vaccinated and thus all but guaranteed a mild course of the virus? But if there is a lockdown, a further question mark hangs over whether it will be widely observed.  

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