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Coronavirus: Prague and CR update

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There is not very much in the news outside of the fear selling virus epidemic, as it is being increasingly referred to. The coronavirus has in fact become known to everyone who has any contact with any communication or information. The virus is among us, but it is probably not as scary as we think. It is simply something none of us really understand yet.

As of Sunday, March 8th there were thirty-two cases confirmed in the country. They are mostly people returning from Italy or close contacts. There does not appear to be any run away escalation of cases as in some other countries. But life as we know it will most likely change for a while.

The Minister of Health Adam Vojtech (ANO) has said that he is considering banning visitors to hospitals and facilities housing seniors. This seems logical due to the vast majority of deaths being cases of elderly, with pre-existing medical conditions. This practice may be announced and take effect today.

Large gatherings and shows will increasingly be minimized. Many countries are running sports events without fans, cancelling concerts and conferences. This will probably become the norm very quickly across Europe.

Another move for control is increasing checks at the border for returning or visiting tourists. Apparently the government has set up border checks, measuring temperatures of people coming to the Czech Republic. This in addition to the mandatory quarantine of people coming from high risk areas including China, northern Italy, Korea and Iran. This list is bound to increase significantly after both France and Germany saw its case counts top 1000 people each over the weekend. The Czech Republic seems to be the first country to threaten quarantine breakers with a maximum fine of CZK 3,000,000. Be mindful.

The largest near term effect will be economical. For those not watching the business news, stock markets have already tumbled more than 10%, with investors pouring money into bonds, driving yields to record all-time lows. Your correspondent called some contacts on Friday to see what regular business people were feeling in Prague.
“Short-term rentals are down 40% from last year and new reservations are practically non-existent,” said a manager of a short-term rental business.

“Some reservations have been cancelled,” said the owner of a restaurant outside the city center. He went on to tell me that his contacts in the center of town say the drop has been very drastic as tourism has suddenly dried up.

“People have suddenly hit the pause button,” said one operator of an advertising company.

Airlines and hotels have experienced the most drastic changes with British Airways and Lufthansa announcing 50% cuts in service last week. At the pace of cuts this may be the fastest drop for the airline industry in its history. Naturally all related businesses are directly affected. Many airlines have started asking staff to take unpaid leave. Some factories have already closed. This trend is quickly becoming global, not only China and Europe. People have reported to me that airports have thinned out dramatically and airplanes are flying with lots of free seats. Flybe in the UK declared bankruptcy last week.

This is the effect of something that I understand to be slightly more dangerous than the flu, although the virus does seem to have sticking power and can overtake a weakened body very fast.

There is no need to panic, but doing one’s part would help. Not overstocking/overbuying things that are not needed. Washing hands regularly and well. Not touching one’s face. Coughing into one’s sleeve. These are the most effective counter measures and the most effective way to stay healthy and consider those around us.

Let’s stay healthy, clean and calm.

Paul Lysek

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