Masks off: Czech respirator rules being relaxed as of March 14

Respirators will no longer be required in most indoor spaces except for public transport and some healthcare facilities.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 10.03.2022 15:42:00 (updated on 14.03.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Rules for wearing respirators to slow the spread of Covid will be substantially relaxed across the Czech Republic as of March 14, Health Minister Vlastimil Válek announced on Twitter. The requirement to wear respirators in public indoor spaces is one of the last Covid restrictions still in place in Czechia.

“We’re loosening [the rules]! On March 14, we'll take off respirators, with the exception of in public transport, and medical and social facilities. If the favorable development continues, we will remove respirators completely in April,” Válek said.

Respirators won't be compulsory anywhere else, including in stores, malls, public offices, and workplaces.

“Thank you to everyone who followed the rules and everyone who was vaccinated. We did it without lockdowns,” Válek added, referring to the most recent Covid wave.

As of Monday, people will still have to wear a respirator in public transport, including trains, buses, and cable-car cabins.

Respirators will also be still compulsory in the homes for the elderly, the disabled, and those with dementia.

Exemptions for wearing respirators remain in place for pre-school children, people with disabilities, hospital patients, public transport drivers, and people with a medical certificate saying their health condition won’t allow it.

Válek said in February that he hoped all restrictions could all be lifted in time for Easter, which falls on April 17 this year. Traditional Easter markets were closed for the past two years due to the pandemic.

The first Covid cases appeared in the Czech Republic on March 1, 2020, and the duty to wear face masks first came into force on March 18, 2020. At first, homemade masks were allowed, but once FFP2 and KN95 respirators became widely available, the rules were toughened.

Mask rules have gone through several changes. At first, masks were required in all public spaces both indoors and outdoors, but that was later relaxed to only being required at indoor spaces, and not while eating or drinking. The development of restrictions since October 2020 can be found here.

Covid cases starting to rise again

Válek said in his tweet that further relaxation of mask rules depends on the pandemic continuing to subside. But the numbers of new and recurring Covid cases have been starting to increase again compared to numbers from the same day of the previous week. Infection numbers since the start of the pandemic are tracked on a Ministry of Health website.

The reproduction number R has been rising and is now at 0.95. If it passes 1.0, the pandemic is spreading more quickly again. The R number has been below 1.0 since Feb. 2, 2022, and fell to 0.66 on Feb. 25, 2022. It has been rising since then. The R number shows to how many people one infected person spreads the infection.

Experts say a new but small Covid wave could be starting due to the spread of the BA.2 variant of Omicron, which is more contagious than the original Omicron variant.

Sequencing data for positive Covid samples released earlier this week show that BA.2 now makes up about one-quarter of new infections in Czechia, with the original Omicron variant making up virtually all of the rest.

According to data from the Institute of Health Information and Statistics (ÚZIS), the rise in new cases is not linked to the influx of refugees from war-stricken Ukraine. Biologist Jaroslav Flegr also dismissed any connection between the recent uptick in cases and refugees.

"We caused it by ourselves, by loosening restrictions about one month prematurely," he said.

Flegr expects another Covid wave to come in the autumn, but its impact will be weaker thanks to vaccination and the availability of medicine.

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