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Central Europe: From COVID success story to symbol of crisis mismanagement?

Brno, Czech Republic- “The second wave is here”, said the Czech governmental appointee for science, research, and healthcare Roman Prymula, on September 13. Two weeks later, one can only acknowledge that the newly-appointed Health Minister was right, and that Central Europe as a whole is struggling with record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases.

A rise in COVID-19 cases in Central Europe

Czech authorities estimate that there are currently more than 26,000 active cases of COVID-19 in the country, with nearly 3,000 new cases on Friday, the second highest daily increase. The Czech Republic now has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, and was added to the list of high-risk countries by many EU states, including neighbouring Slovakia.

Czechia is not the only country facing an upsurge in the number of infected, since as far as Central Europe is concerned, all Visegrad Group members – lauded only a few weeks ago as the biggest success stories of the first wave – are registering record numbers in the daily COVID-19 cases, be it Poland, Hungary or Slovakia.

What led to such a huge spike in the numbers of infected people? As we’ve reported a few days ago, Central and Eastern Europe has been hailed – albeit for the wrong reasons – by Western media and commentators for its success in containing the first wave in the spring and is now facing a surprisingly worsening epidemiological situation.

After the first wave

As soon as governments started rolling back anti-COVID restrictions, reopening their borders and allowing places and businesses to open, the coronavirus started to slowly return. In Central Europe, data show that an important share of cases reported since June-July were imported from abroad – including by cross-border workers or holidaymakers.

Fearing a popular backlash and more than likely motivated by electoral calculations, Central European governments might have been a bit too far in their desire to prioritize the economy’s reopening and people’s holidays over the more cautious approach that prevailed in March. And while all governments have for now dismissed plans to introduce a nation-wide lockdown, the situation could very well quickly evolve for the worst in the coming weeks.

ecdc-map-europe-covid-infection-rates

Central Europe is now fully inside the second wave of COVID-19, evidenced by the admittance of V4 officials themselves. “According to available statistics, the second wave in Slovakia has begun”, said the Slovak Minister of Health, Marek Krajci, a few days ago.

Like most, Slovakia also rolled back most of the measures introduced during the first wave. Unlike the Czech Republic – who reinstated it only a few days ago – Slovakia kept its pandemic commission of the government running, helping Slovak authorities to introduce back several measures, albeit not as strict as in the spring, to tackle the second wave of COVID sooner.

A case can – easily – be made that Europe reopened too soon, too quickly, and didn’t sufficiently prepare for the second wave, which most experts agreed would inevitably come after summer. It couldn’t be truer for Central European nations who have become, in only a few weeks, case studies of responsible crisis response to case studies of reckless mismanagement.

“Sufficient measures”

The governments of Visegrad countries reacted differently during the beginning of the second wave, with varying responses and policies regarding schools’ reopening, face-masks regulations and public events’ attendance. In any case, Central Europe – as other regions in the EU – is still struggling to find the right balance between protecting the health of its citizens and avoiding a disastrous economic nose-dive, which a second lockdown would inevitably bring about.

While holding governments accountable for their (mis-)management of this unprecedented public health emergency is necessary, citizens might be too quick to forget about the personal responsibility of each and every one of us in “flattening the curve” and curbing the spread of the virus. Come winter and the flu season, acknowledging our own role – regardless of any government-mandated measures – in this crisis will only become more and more critical.

By Mark Szabo

An international relations and European politics student at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, Márk grew up in a bi-cultural Slovak-Hungarian family. A former intern at the Bratislava-based Globsec Institute, Márk aims for a career in diplomacy. He joined the team of Kafkadesk contributors in April 2019. Feel free to check out all his articles, right here!

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