How will the incoming Czech government confront the next wave of Covid?

The forthcoming change of government comes as Covid cases spiral and calls for new restrictions grow.

 William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 25.10.2021 11:53 (updated on 25.10.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

The incoming Czech government faces a baptism of fire. As Covid cases increase significantly with the arrival of colder weather, incoming ministers will face tough choices in the very first days of their leadership.

With the Covid reproduction number in the Czech Republic now at almost 2, meaning significant growth in the epidemic in the country, the outgoing government has faced calls for new restrictions to help slow the spread. The new government, led by the SPOLU coalition, will meanwhile consider making changes to some of the current pandemic rules.

One thing is certain: the Czech Republic will see its fifth Minister of Health during the Covid pandemic, with Adam Vojtěch (ANO) to be replaced along with the rest of the current government. The favorite to replace Vojtěch is TOP 09 vice-president Vlastimil Válek, a man with a medical background.

Válek has already been invited to attend meetings of the Government Health Risks Council discussing the epidemic, but he refuses to attend until he officially becomes a government member. Current Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has criticized Válek’s reluctance to participate in talks before assuming office, accusing him of playing politics rather than joining the debate on how to tackle rising case numbers.

But this isn’t the only area of disagreement between the outgoing and incoming governments. The SPOLU and Pirates+STAN coalitions disagree with the government’s move to cancel the provision of free Covid tests.

“I don’t think this was the right decision,” ODS MP Bohuslav Svoboda, who is also a member of the Anticovid panel formed by the SPOLU coalition as a shadow Ministry of Health, told Aktualne.cz. “The government thinks this will encourage people to get vaccinated. But we don’t think this will prove effective.”

Other opposition politicians criticize the abolition of free Covid tests by claiming it will lead to less information about the spread of Covid among the Czech population. But the opposition will, at the same time, need to seek out ways to boost vaccine uptake. The Czech Republic is ninth worst country in the EU in terms of vaccine coverage, with only 57 percent of the population having received at least one dose.

Another area in which the incoming government is likely to make changes is recognition of immunity against the virus due to past infection. They are considering opening up recognition of immunity to people with a high level of antibodies even if they do not meet the standard criteria for non-infectivity: infection in the last 180 days, two doses of vaccination, or a negative Covid test.

This is part of a wider move to expand the definition of non-infectivity, which would include extending the duration of supposed immunity after a positive test result: from 180 days to a whole year. Health authorities remain sceptical about expanding the boundaries for non-infectivity, though, claiming there is insufficient data to justify the move.

A final element for consideration by the new government will be whether or not to make vaccination mandatory in certain professions, such as for health professionals. So far, vaccination in the Czech Republic has been given on a strictly voluntary basis, but that could change as infection rates grow and vaccine up-take remains relatively low.

Whatever the changes implemented by the incoming Ministry of Health, the next few months will be a serious test for the new government. Coalition MPs promise a “fundamental difference in approach” to foster greater public sympathy with anti-epidemic measures. But faced with the grim reality of rising cases, the incoming administration will need to hit the ground running.

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