Meet the Canadian expat charting the COVID pandemic in the Czech Republic

Tim Addison's daily data drop keeps thousands of expats informed about the coronavirus and has earned him the nickname "Covid Tim."

Tom Lane

Written by Tom Lane Published on 01.02.2021 11:54:00 (updated on 01.02.2021) Reading time: 7 minutes

The coronavirus has been dominating headlines for most of 2020 and already well into 2021. Foreigners living in the Czech Republic may find it difficult to wrap their heads around the latest stats given the language barrier. This is where Tim Addison comes in.

Since the outbreak last spring, the Canadian writer has been posting daily updates with the latest statistics on cases, deaths, and vaccinations for his fellow expats. This isn't a paid job. But every morning without exception, "COVID Tim" posts in the Coronavirus updates by Facebook group.

We caught up with Tim to discover how he came to be in the Czech Republic and what inspired him to help keep people informed about the COVID-19 pandemic in the Czech Republic.

How and when did you end up in the Czech Republic?

A photo of a Prague street in 1993 from Tim! Photo: Tim Addison
A photo of a Prague street in 1993 from Tim! Photo: Tim Addison

"After university, I decided it would be cool to move to [then] Czechoslovakia, it was 1992 that I made my decision, bought the ticket, came over with a one year open return and in the first year, I met an English guy who had written a television pilot and together with an American guy was going to direct it and try and sell it to HBO, so they asked me to be the producer and so I read a book on what a producer does and ended up getting financing from the two biggest Czech production companies here at that time.

We produced a film in that first year called Prague One, it was about expats living in the Czech Republic and it was along the lines of Beverly Hill 90210. We'd hired most of the famous Czech actors who were in it as extras and it was a big deal, unfortunately, the thing never really went anywhere. That ended my first year and in fact, I had to come back after I went home because my one-year ticket expired.

I came back a week later to finish editing the film and that would lead to a second-year stay. I realized that in the Czech Republic there were no sitcoms. There were just these telenovelas, like these Spanish-style soap operas and they'd never really heard of a sitcom, so I created a sitcom in 1994 called Hospoda, which was loosely based on Cheers. It turned out to be a super successful series, it was on Nova for ten years, it was number one on television.

I then shifted into advertising, writing instead of 30-minute shows, 30 second shows so to speak. I ended up being creative director at some big agencies and now I'm creative director at Hammer Agency and strategic director for the five countries that Hammer Agency is in, which is Central and Eastern Europe. I also ended up having a son here who is 13 years old and I'm here now 27 years.

Tim has been posting since the outset of the coronavirus.
Tim has been posting since the outset of the coronavirus.

How were those early days in the Czech Republic and how does it compare to 2020?

The first few years were the most exciting and different and interesting, producing the film and also moving to the East and things were quite open back then and it was tons of fun. Some of my friends opened bars, that was by far the most interesting time. 2020 has been for me, like for everyone else, odd. It started off with a lot of fear and then, with social distance; sort of isolation, and then let's say boredom. I'm sure everybody has had the same experience of it as I have.

You decided to keep expats updated on the coronavirus, what made you start that?

In January the BBC had written a story on the virus and it was still in Wuhan province and in that article, it had mentioned that the science was the spread of it was asymptomatic and as I soon as I discovered that, I posted really early on that we're in for a pandemic, because if it's spread asymptomatically then there is no going back. The genie is out of the bottle and we're done for in a sense! I posted that and people had said on my Facebook page that I was being pessimistic and so on and so forth.

Tim Addison has been keeping people updated on the latest COVID stats.
Tim Addison has been keeping people updated on the latest COVID stats.

That maybe lit a fire under me a little bit and I decided to look deeper into the science and I joined a few online seminars with some of the top scientists, I don't know how exactly how I was allowed in, but there were these top epidemiologists and I thought I would share the information on social media somehow and had 10,000 followers in the group so I thought the expat population is probably less aware than the local population about what's going on specifically in the Czech Republic and so I shared the results of that research on your Facebook group.

The posts have a significant following, what has that been like?

So many people started following the updates, just over one hundred every day for nearly a year. Right from that first day, people were like 'Tim thanks for the information', so that was nice and at that time there were some misunderstandings about the actual science and the statistics so I tended to be more involved in moderating in a sense those comments. Now everyone is sort of on board with what is going on.

I was surprised by the number of people that were clicking on it and liking it and so many people were thanking me daily and I guess I just took that as a matter of course. I'm interested I guess in how many people like the post, but as much as everyone else to find out what the latest statistics are and the numbers and how we're going up or down.

Some people have written 'I count on this every day, I look at it every day and it's important for my work or important for me and my family.' Some people work in Germany and live here or had relatives visiting and all the myriad possibilities why people follow it I suppose, that contributes to my continued interest in publishing it. 

Tim continues to post the latest coronavirus statistics
Tim continues to post the latest coronavirus statistics

Did you have any negative feedback on the posts?

At the beginning, there was some of that and it was part laughable and part scary. I had to ask people when they were presenting new information to give sources for that because if there was no source then it's just baseless and useless. Some people started saying 'oh Tim, your posts are way too optimistic', which is strange because I'm just reporting the facts and the numbers, and also it's interesting because it started off back in January that I was a pessimist and now I was getting called an optimist! There have been interesting phases throughout the year in terms of people's reactions. 

How easy is it to compile the data and how accessible is it for the average person?

It took half an hour or more in the first few months and now it's a lot of copy and paste. The information I take is from the ministry of health for the Czech Republic from the European Centre for Disease Control and various other pages but generally, those are the two big ones. Those are the two trusted sources, the cold hard facts of how many people are admitted to hospitals, how many are infected per 100,000, and so on. I try and give a bit of perspective of where the country stands and so I put in the stats for the rest of Europe to show where we stand. I don't make any comments on that I just say this is where we're at. 

You post every single day, do you have days where it is harder than others?

I do it every single day. I think we're up to about 300 days now or more. I have to get up every day for my work and getting my son breakfast before school and the statistics come out now at eight in the morning and I'm generally up. On the weekends or after late nights it can be a little bit more difficult! I set up an alarm and do the stats, a couple of times I got up and went back to bed after posting. Otherwise, it's pretty quick, it takes me ten or fifteen minutes just to collect the data, translate it, drop it on Facebook, and then I usually check for five minutes afterward to see if I have made any typos. I don't spend a lot of time following the comments much anymore because it's not a full-time job!

The vaccine is being rolled out, so perhaps a lie-in is coming soon! Do you include that information now?

I started as soon as they published the plan for the roll-out of the vaccine. I posted a plan for vaccines and I started posting the numbers of people vaccinated in the Czech Republic, so that is part of the regular posts. It's good to see those numbers rising and that's the end game right?! Good times. For the regular Honza or John, we probably won't get our vaccines until May or June, so just at the start of summer, but the plan goes until 2022, so there will still be people getting inoculated in 2022. A lie-in is going to happen at some point!

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