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Uncertainty reigns in Czech Republic after state of emergency expires

Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech Republic is entering unchartered territory in its fight against COVID-19 after MPs voted against the extension of the state of national emergency, which ends at midnight.

On Thursday, Czech MPs rejected the government’s proposal to extend the current state of emergency, re-instated last October and regularly prolonged since then to allow authorities to take extraordinary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Only 48 MPs out of 106 present voted in favour of the extension, exposing the vulnerability of the minority government formed by the ruling ANO party and the Social-Democrats (CSSD).

Prime Minister Andrej Babis lashed out at MPs who voted against the government’s proposal and said they would be responsible for any additional deaths caused by the pandemic.

As the Czech Republic, which reports one of the highest new infection rates in Europe, continues to struggle with a high number of cases despite a semi-lockdown and night curfew in place since late December, the end of the state of emergency throws the country into turmoil.

Uncertainty reigns as to what happens next, considering many restrictions and measures can only lawfully remain in place under a state of national emergency.

Although nationwide measures and the strict lockdown of three hard-hit districts might have to be scrapped, one alternative would be for regional governors to declare a “state of danger” to introduce restrictions on a local scale.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his Health Minister Jan Blatny have held talks with the country’s regional governors, some of whom expressed concerns this “state of danger” – which is usually linked to natural disasters like floods – wouldn’t be sufficient to take adequate action in the fight against the pandemic.

PM Babis is still considering the possibility of declaring a new state of emergency for another fortnight after regional governors unanimously asked the cabinet to do so this afternoon.

Many have accused Czech factions of political infighting at a time of national crisis. While the Prime Minister has slammed parties who refused to prolong the state of emergency without a plan B, opposition parties have expressed growing frustration over the government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic and its refusal to consult with them on an appropriate course of action.

Main photo credit: Official Twitter account of Prime Minister Andrej Babis