The Czech Republic was the COVID-19 envy of Europe, but now they've blown it, writes CNN

The Czech Republic now reports the highest rate of COVID-19 per capita of any major country in the world

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky
Published on 19.10.2020 15:43 (updated on 19.10.2020)

The Czech Republic is once again making world headlines for its handling of the coronavirus crisis. But now it's for all the wrong reasons.

"There are currently more new Covid-19 cases per million people recorded in the Czech Republic than in any other major country in the world," reads a CNN story credited to Scott McLean, Tomáš Etzler and Ivana Kottasová.

"On Friday, more than 11,100 new cases were reported in a single day, a new record. In the first 17 days of October, more people have died of the virus in the Czech Republic than during the previous eight months of the epidemic combined."

Earlier this year, the Czech Republic instituted drastic measures that included the closure of most businesses, a ban on travel, and the requirement to wear a face mask at all locations -- even while outdoors.

The mask requirement was largely credited for helping the country curb the spread of COVID-19. At a time when other states had yet to implement a similar measure, and even the WHO told people that there was no need to wear masks, the Czech Republic became a symbol of mask-wearing to combat coronavirus.

A video about mask wearing produced by Petr Ludwig / Konec prokrastinace went viral on YouTube, and has racked up nearly six million views. It was even tweeted by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to U.S. President Donald Trump, urging the United States to make face masks mandatory.

So what changed?

The daily rise in COVID-19 cases in the Czech Republic hit a high of 377 at the end of March. Regulations were largely repealed at the end of June. Through much of the summer, the number of new cases held at around 100-200 per day.

But in late August, there was another uptick in cases. New regulations were announced by then-Health Minister Adam Vojtěch that included the requirement to once again wear masks in most locations. But just a day later, Vojtěch walked back most of those regulations after a meeting with Babiš.

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Flash-forward two months, and the country is now reporting more than 8,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, with new Czech Health Minister Roman Prymula advising the country not to expect things to get any better within the next two weeks.

Despite the recent surge in cases, officials continue to state that measures similar to those taken during the spring will not be taken again due to their impact on the economy. Still, further lockdown measures may be on the table for November. In his weekly Facebook address, Babis states that regulations for Christmas will be decided upon this week.

"Dear fellow citizens, I turn to you with a request," the Prime Minister wrote.

"Stay at home. You can save lives."

Just hours after that plea, however, an anti-regulation demonstration at Prague's Old Town Square erupted into violence as protesters clashed with police. Dozens of injuries were reported, and 144 people were arrested. Among the thousands that filled Old Town Square in Prague yesterday, precious few wore face masks, and social distancing measures were not observed.

With the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases per capita in Europe and perhaps even the world, CNN's claim that the Czech Republic has blown it is no stretch. At the same time, the Czech COVID-19 story is far from over.