Friday, April 17, 2020

2020: Watching the Coronavirus Pandemic Unfold from the Czech Republic

The beginning of this year seemed so happy and bright in most places in the world. We began a new decade on the back of a successful climb out of the Great Recession. Then, just as we all began to settle in for the last part of winter, the news of a mysterious illness in China exploded across the world.

A Mysterious Illness Begins

It was near the start of Chinese New Year when news began to filter out about a harsh illness that had symptoms similar to SARS. The illness was characterized with a mild start, which soon led to severe pneumonia and even death in some patients.

Once the world learned about this mystery illness, we soon began hearing about the horrible epidemic that seemed to be centered in Hubei Wuhan China. It seemed just a matter of days before we were informed of hundreds sickened and dying of this sickness.

Then we learned that China began instituting what seemed like draconian quarantine rules in an effort to stem the illness. Millions of Chinese people were affected at a time of year that’s normally a holiday for them. Many Chinese people were stranded where they had traveled for the holidays. Some had even left pets at home, thinking they’d return in just a couple of days. What a shock for these people.

Can you imagine traveling to see your family for Christmas, only to learn you couldn’t go back home due to a quarantine on the entire region?

The quarantine in China has lasted about two months, and news is much better. Due to their quarantine methods, the Chinese have managed to almost have control of the illness. Tens of thousands have died and been infected; however, this week Chinese authorities have begun to slowly the quarantine.

The Mystery Illness Has a Name
It took a while, but the mystery illness was finally given a name on February 11, 2020. The illness was first called the novel coronavirus, once it was determined the infection was caused by a virus from the coronavirus family. Then the official name from the WHO became Covid-19.

The viral infection was determined to cause symptoms that could mimic the flu, a cold, or even asthma and allergies including:
Shortness of breath
Dry cough

Over time researchers have found a longer list of symptoms for Covid-19, but the diagnosis is still confusing and not definite, unless you receive a test.
Little did we know that when the virus was given a name, it would begin to spread farther afield.

Watching from the Czech Republic
From the Czech Republic, we’ve watched this viral infection unfold along with the rest of the world. No one really seriously thought about the illness coming their part of the world. Admit it—did you think the virus would come to your part of the world? Probably not. However, as time went on it soon became clear Covid-19 was starting to travel.

Still watching from the heart of Europe, we slowly saw the viral infection creep along towards Europe. However, no one really thought the virus would land here. It finally exploded in Italy near the end of January. The tragedy that had played out in China now began to unfold here, on our very shores. Italy began a desperate fight against the virus.

The Spread Across Europe
As Italy saw its first cases of Covid-19, many people here were getting ready to travel. February is the month when kids are off for spring break. Many families travel to ski in the Alps across Italy, France, and Austria. It’s a time when many people just pick up and leave for a fun destination, never thinking they’d be faced with a virulent illness.

Near the end of February, it was apparent Italy was having a problem. Near the first part of March, the Czech government issued travel advisories against going to Italy. However, many Czechs went ahead with their planned trips. One weekend, some 25,000 Czechs were tracked by mobile operators as being in northern Italy, where the infection was the worst. This doesn’t even take into account Czechs who traveled to Austria, which had already begun having their first cases of the virus.

And it was only Czechs who had visited these areas who first became infected. Northern Italy is a highly popular place to ski this time of year. People from all over Europe head there and to other places such Austria, Germany, etc. People from all over Europe were out having fun, even though a deadly epidemic was raging.

Czech Measures to Stop Covid-19
Early on, the Czech government saw the tragic effects of the virus in Italy. As a result, the government began to take what appeared to be overly strict measures to keep the Czech Republic safe. The Czechs were one of the first countries to stop flights between this country and China. Later, they were one of the first to end flights between here and northern Italy.

At that time, many people thought these measures were an overreaction. Surely the virus wouldn’t come here and have the same effect. Thankfully the government saw what could happen and acted early. In that time, other countries and even heads of the EU, chided the Czech government for causing unnecessary disruptions between member countries.

However, it was these strict measures that have seen a slower rate of infection here, and a drop off in the number of positive tests over the course of March.

“Draconian” Measures Implemented in the Czech Republic
Throughout February and March, the Czech Republic began implementing what most Western countries considered to be draconian measures to stem Covid-19. In the early days of the infection here, most people who tested positive with the virus were tied to Italy.

It was at this time the Czechs made it mandatory that anyone traveling from norther Italy would have to be in mandatory home quarantine for 2 weeks. (Two weeks was thought to be the incubation period of the virus). This was in the first week of March.

By March 7th, there were 26 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country. The quarantine order was then extended to those who had temporary or permanent residence in the Czech Republic. Train drivers, truck drivers, ambulance drivers and pilots were excluded.

Later in the week, more cases were announced. It was then decided that visits to hospital wards and retirement homes were banned. There were exceptions, however, for people visiting children, new mothers, and patients who were in hospice and/or terminally ill.

By March 10th, the government decided it was time to close all primary and secondary schools, along with universities. Kindergartens and pre-schools were allowed to remain open. In addition, all public events with over 100 people were banned.

It was at this time that each day brought new prohibitions for us. We would watch the news at night and hear new prohibitions. Or we’d go to bed, only to get up and face new rules in the morning. It was difficult to keep up with it all.

By March 12th, the Czech government had declared a state of emergency that was set to last 30 days. At this time, all pubs and restaurants were to close from 8-6pm. Other places such as sports facilities, swimming pools, clubs, libraries and galleries were to close completely. And public events could have no more than 30 people.

It was also on March 12th that it was announced the borders with Austria and Germany would be closed and/or monitored. The country decided to leave open eleven border used for private vehicles and truckers. Other forms of transport were cut including trains, boats and international buses. In addition, Germans and Austrians, or other foreign nationals from high-risk countries, were banned from entering the country. Czechs were also banned from traveling to those countries.

By March 13th, the government had decided to put the entire country into mandated lockdown due to the virus. This meant personal movement was restricted. We could then only go to work and back home, buy groceries, pet food and medications. And we could visit family if necessary.

By March 18th, the government made it law that we could only go out in public wearing a face mask, surgical mask or a scarf to cover the nose and mouth. In addition, all shops could serve only those between 65 years and above from 10am to noon. This was changed the next day, when the hours for seniors were moved to 7am to 9am.

In the beginning, cases of Covid-19 looked like they were going to skyrocket. However, due to the strict lockdown measures, we’ve finally seen a daily decrease in the number of positive cases of the virus.

As far as numbers go, 6,437 people have been infected, and 170 have died. That’s a pretty low number compared to other parts of Europe, or the world. The control of the virus has been due to the strict measures taken by the Czech government early in the pandemic.

In the next post, I'll share what life has been like under the Czech government's mandated lockdown. For now, Jiri and I continue to both be OK and are trying to make the best of being stuck home together, just like most people around the world right now.

That's all for now--take care and stay healthy!

God bless,

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