The Czech Republic’s coronavirus crisis is now so bad that when Prime Minister Andrej Babis stood in front of reporters during a live news conference Wednesday, he did something few leaders often do. He apologized to the people. Five times.
Babis, who is overseeing one of the worst coronavirus epidemics globally, admitted he and his government had made mistakes in handling the outbreak and pleaded with people to follow strict lockdown rules.
“I am sorry for the new restrictions that will impact the lives of business owners, citizens, employees. I am also sorry for having de facto ruled out the possibility of this happening because I could not imagine that this would happen,” Babis said.
The Czech leader’s contrition came as other European nations, including Germany and Poland, reported record daily new case numbers, and Ireland prepared to impose the strictest lockdown in Europe.
The new Czech measures, which came into force Thursday morning, include limits on people’s free movement and the closure of non-essential services and stores. They will remain in place until November 3.
A strict mask mandate was also reinstated on Tuesday, making them compulsory anywhere within urban areas and in cars.
For weeks, the Prime Minister refused to impose stricter rules on the population, citing the need to protect the economy. But the decision — which in some instances contradicted expert opinion — has led to an out-of-control spread of the virus.
The nation of 10 million is now reporting more new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people than any major country in the world. It registered almost 15,000 new infections on Wednesday, an all-time high.
The Czech Republic was praised for the way it handled the first wave of the pandemic in the spring when the government imposed an early lockdown and made masks compulsory when most of the Western world barely considered that move. However, that strict mandate was lifted over the summer when the government believed it had the epidemic under control.
Babis admitted Wednesday that the country had become a victim of its success.
“We certainly made mistakes when we thought at the end of May, when we finished the reopening, that we had managed it,” he said.
Such is the extent of the crisis that Health Minister Roman Prymula announced Wednesday that the United States National Guard sent 28 doctors to help the stretched Czech health care system.
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