Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Is the government taking the right steps at the right time?

By Eliska Ludvova | Prague Daily Monitor |
28 April 2020

Even though the trust in the government is as high as ever, it has not proven itself as a crisis manager. Initially, it has underestimated the gravity of the situation and prepare an emergency plan in advance, i.e. as soon as January. Had it taken measures in advance such as Thai-wan (be it by ordering health inspections to all incoming to the Czech Republic or limiting the number of face masks individuals could buy), we would not have to be shutting down the whole economy. Once the virus was as close as in Italy, the Czech Minister of Health pronounced that he would not be afraid to go on holidays there. At that time, children aged between 6 and 18 had a spring break at school, and many families went skiing to the Italian Alps. Not only three weeks afterwards, the government was shutting down life as we used to know it. The freezing of virtually all human contact inevitably led to economic difficulties. Although, people were deprived of the sources of their livelihood and small business, in particular, have been struggling to survive, the state provided very little help.

Moreover, the government was playing its populist games to boost its popularity with even the limited finances it provided. For instance, the Minister of Finance, Alena Šilerová, that the state would provide financial support of 25 000 Czech Crowns to all freelancers, even students. The reality is that not everyone affected is entitled to compensation. Furthermore, the majority of the companies applying for budgeting loans have failed with those with their seat in Prague being excluded from the very beginning.

To add insult to injury, many of the Ministerial Ordinances are too vague. Their language is so loose that even the Ministers who issued them do not know what exactly they allow and prohibit. For example, in spite of being a lawyer, the Minister of Health, did not know whether hairdressers were or were not allowed to provide their services in their clients’ houses. Many may think that it is a banality; for others, it amounts to crucial information. For the latter, it is the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

The crucial question, now, is how the Czech Republic should relax the stringent rules. At first glance, it may appear that we have nothing to fear. So far, the number of casualties in the Czech Republic has slightly overstepped 200 and more than 7000 people were tested positive for the virus. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that these numbers are the result of the restrictions, which ensured that people abstained from the majority of social interactions. It is exceedingly difficult to predict whether and how they might change in their absence.

Given the uncertainty of what the future might hold, it would not hurt if the government slowly and carefully removed the limitations. Rather unexpectedly and contrary to previous announcements, the government has decided to take a different path. It has been announced on Thursday that the removal will take place sooner than previously expected. For example, the ban to travel abroad was lifted. The shops smaller than 2 500 meters square will be open as soon as on Monday. Previously, the government had planned to start opening only shops smaller than 200 meters square and gradually move to bigger shops with those of 1000 metres square opening in June. While experts disapprove, the government seeks to mitigate any economic losses. Rastislav Maďar, epidemiologist and government advisor, publicly expressed his disapproval with speeding up the return to the normal life. The Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, dismissed his arguments when he said that the government will reintroduce the restrictions if the situation starts worsening. One could speculate whether Thursday’s judgment has something to do with the sudden change of the government’s mind.

Eliška Ludvová is a law student and a future human rights lawyer. Apart from expressing her opinions about politics, she also enjoys hiking and travelling.