Prague mayor jabs back at Czech PM in ongoing Charles Bridge dinner party debate

In a lengthy Facebook post, Mayor Hřib called out PM Babiš for attributing the rise in COVID-19 numbers to the summer celebration

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 29.09.2020 12:12 (updated on 29.09.2020)

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates) maintains that the June 30 banquet on Charles Bridge did not contribute to an increase in COVID-19 cases, and he criticized Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) for trying to politicize the issue.

Babiš, in an interview for daily Právo, blamed the current rise in COVID-19 cases on laxity during the summer, and pointed the finger at his political opponents. Babiš’ ANO movement in cooperation with the Social Democrats (ČSSD) currency leads a minority government, with external support from the Communists (KSČM). All other parties including the Pirates, Civic Democrats (ODS) and Top 09 are in opposition.

“Please, the opposition celebrated the end of coronavirus on Charles Bridge with 2,500 people at the end of June. The photos without [social distancing] gaps speak for themselves,” he said, adding a list of opposition politicians and supporters who attended. “[This was] all under the auspices of the  Prague’s pirate mayor Hřib,” he told the daily, adding that the opposition can’t be taken seriously.

Mayor Hřib disputed that account. “I know it's before the election, but you should not lie, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš! Linking the second wave of the epidemic to the tables on Charles Bridge is nonsense. At that time, the numbers of those infected were under control, the event was in accordance with the rules of the time. To this day, hygiene [officials] do not record any outbreak at this event,” Hřib said on Facebook.

Senate and regional elections will take place October 2–3 across the Czech Republic. Prague, which is technically a region as well as a city, will not be holding regional elections but will have Senate elections.

The Facebook post features a cardboard cutout of Hřib on Charles Bridge with a graph of the development of coronavirus cases superimposed.

“It is clear from the graphs that even a few weeks later, the number of active cases in Prague did not increase, but on the contrary decreased. Otherwise, considering that it was an outdoor event, with seating accessible after registration, it would be possible to organize with a similar number of people now,” he added.

He went on the say that when the government canceled anti-virus measures at the end of June, it was not surprising that people wanted to celebrate. He disputed the accuracy of several of Babiš’ statements about the Charles Bridge picnic.

“The event was not organized by the municipality and your claim that I gave the event patronage is not true either. I just said that it would support domestic tourism. We took the call for people to travel within the Czech Republic seriously — you encouraged people to spend their vacation at home, and then you flew to Crete. This year I went with my wife to South Bohemia and then to Moravia,” Hřib said.

He adds that the graph of the development of the number of coronavirus cases shows that Babiš in August underestimated the situation. “When, at the end of the holidays, former Health Minister Adam Vojtěch proposed the reintroduction of face masks on the basis of experts' recommendations. You rejected it on August 20 and stopped the proposed measures. making reference to ‘common sense.’ At the same time, it was clear that once children arrived at school on September 1, the spread of coronavirus would be significantly accelerated,” he added.

Hřib also highlighted the efforts made by the city. “By the way, I would like to remind you that in the spring in Prague we responded to the coronavirus pandemic by introducing face masks in public transport and immediately afterwards in all internal public spaces before the government. On the contrary, you held a press conference, where without a face mask. you advised everyone to masks. How can you expect someone to follow such a recommendation?” he said.

June 30 Charles Bridge dinner / photo via Jason Pirodsky
June 30 Charles Bridge dinner / photo via Jason Pirodsky

Finally, he took the opportunity to promote Prague’s new data website. “And for everyone who has read this far, I have one tip: If you do not want to rely on fake news, you can use verified information and data about Prague from our new website Pragozor.cz/health,” he concluded.

A 515-meter-long table was set up on Prague’s Charles Bridge on June 30, and over 2,000 people sat down and ate food that they brought themselves. People were encouraged to share. The event was organized by entrepreneur Ondřej Kobza, whose previous projects have included placing pianos and chessboards across the streets of the city.

June 30 Charles Bridge dinner / photo via Jason Pirodsky
June 30 Charles Bridge dinner / photo via Jason Pirodsky

At the time, the infection rate had been fairly steady since the end of May. Nationwide on June 30, there were just 202 new cases, with three in Prague. The reproduction rate of the virus was 1.49, meaning every infected person spread it to 1.49 people.

The typical time for an infection to become evident is up to two weeks, and by July 14 there were 64 new cases nationwide, with three reported in Prague. The reproduction rate had dropped to 0.85.

Numbers didn’t start to rise significantly until the end of July, and started to spike at the start of September when schools reopened.