PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech government on Sunday re-declared a state of emergency for next two weeks to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in one of the European Union's hardest-hit nations.
The decision comes in defiance of the lower house of Parliament, which has refused the minority government’s request to extend the powerful tool that gives the Cabinet the extra powers needed to impose nationwide restrictions and limit people’s travel and rights.
The Czech Republic, a nation of 10.7 million, has had more than 1 million confirmed cases, with 18,143 deaths. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, its rate of 915 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks is the second worst per capita in the 27-nation EU after Portugal.
The country has also been facing a surge of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant first found in Britain that scientists now say is more deadly than the original virus. The Czech Republic's three hardest-hit counties, on the border with Germany and Poland, are under a complete lockdown. The number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in last seven days there is higher than 1,100.
Despite the dire situation, some lawyers and politicians, including Milos Vystrcil, the Senate speaker, say the government’s move violates the country’s Constitution. The government denies that, saying its legal advisers support such a solution.
“I’m really glad that common sense has won,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.
The current state of emergency would have expired on Sunday. The government could use other legal options to reimpose some coronavirus restrictions but not all of them.
Without the state of emergency, bars, restaurants and cafes could reopen Monday, service businesses could resume, the nighttime curfew would end and a ban on more than two people gathering in public would be cancelled.
“We can’t afford that to happen,” Babis said.
The government warned that the restrictions are needed to keep the country's outbreak from getting worse and causing the health system to collapse. Sunday’s move comes at the request of the leaders of all 14 Czech regions, who say they do have not enough powers to fight the pandemic.
“I’d like to thank the governors, who understand that it’s of the utmost importance for us to do the maximum to protect the lives of our citizens,” Babis said.
The governors also requested changes in the government’s approach to the pandemic, including a mass testing of employees financed by the state, a gradual return of children to schools in March and new legislation that would define the state's responsibilities in fighting the pandemic.
Babis also said his government will meet the opposition on Tuesday to discuss further steps. The lower house still has a right to dismiss the government's step.
Germany on Sunday implemented tight border controls on its frontiers with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province in an effort to stem the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.