The Czech Republic’s new government has scrapped a decree making Covid vaccinesmandatory for over-60s and key workers in some professions, with the country’s health minister describing the previous administration’s plan as “nonsense from the start”.
The mandate - which was supposed to come into effect in March for the elderly as well as health and care workers, police officers and firefighters - was dismissed by Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s new centre-right government as daily Covid cases hit a record high in the country.
“We see no reason for compulsory vaccination. We do not want to deepen the divides,” Mr Fiala said at a press conference on Wednesday. However, he emphasised that the government still considered vaccines as “the best way to fight Covid”.
Coalition members of the five-party government had opposed the vaccine mandate ever since it was introduced in December in the twilight days of the previous regime led by Andrej Babis. The plan sparked protests in Prague and elsewhere in the country.
The “Open Czechia” protest organization ran a petition claiming that “instead of relevant expert information allowing citizens to make their own decision, the government is forcing us to be vaccinated through tools of corruption and extortion!”
About 63 per cent of Czechs are fully vaccinated, below the European Union average, according the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Some citizens and professional organisations complained that the vaccine mandate was ill-defined, leading to uncertainty about who would need to get the jab.
“The mandate was not defined well, so from this perspective we are happy that it will be cancelled,” said JiÅí Horecký, president of the Association of Social Service Providers, which advocates for the rights of social workers.
“The group of people obliged to be vaccinated was unclear, the explanatory report was not up to date, and there were no exceptions for people who already had Covid,” he told The Independent.
“I considered mandatory Covid 19 vaccination nonsense from the start,” he said on Twitter.
The health ministry said 28,469 new Covid cases were reported for Tuesday, a record daily number since the start of the pandemic and more than double the 12,371 reported the same day last week. The highly contagious Omicron variant is behind the surge.
The government announced that asymptomatic key healthcare and social workers who test positive for Covid may be allowed to continue working to keep services running. Companies want the list to be extended, while cabinet members are pushing for the so-called “working quarantine” to apply to other key workers including firefighters, police officers, and transport staff.
Mr Fiala’s administration has also shortened quarantine and isolation times, while launching mandatory testing of employees at companies from this week.
The Czech Republic acted faster than most in Europe when the virus first struck in 2020 and enacted strict Covid measures. But in both rhetoric and action, the country is now moving away from the severe restrictions being seen elsewhere in central Europe.
In neighbouring Austria, a mandate requiring all adults to get vaccinated is due to come into force on 1 February.
The Czech Republic has reported 36,937 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the world’s worst rates per capita.
SOURCE: The Independent