Prague, Czech Republic – France will supply the Czech Republic with 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech anti-COVID vaccine by mid-March, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced this week.
Hailed as a praiseworthy gesture of solidarity at a time of crisis, the announcement comes as hard-hit Czech Republic enters one of its worst phases of the pandemic and prepares to extend the state of emergency and introduce stricter measures – including restricting movement between regions, closing kindergartens and some shops that have been allowed to remain open until now.
Stricter mask-wearing rules also came into force on Thursday to try to contain the more infectious British and South African mutations of the virus, the presence of which has already been confirmed in the country.
Praised for its swift action in containing the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the Czech government later admitted to reopening and easing restrictions too soon during the summer. The country of 10,7 million people would go on to report the worst coronavirus infection rate in Europe a few months later, with the pandemic dramatically accelerating at the beginning of this year after a hazardous reopening in the first half of December.
Czech Republic faces “hellish” COVID situation
Today, the Czech Republic has the world’s highest rate of new confirmed infections, according to Our World in Data and Johns Hopkins University, and the third highest new deaths rate after Montenegro and neighbouring Slovakia. A slow vaccine rollout, the government’s chaotic handling of the crisis and the refusal from large parts of the population to comply with health and sanitary regulations have also been blamed for the deteriorating epidemiological situation in the country.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis warned of “hellish” days and weeks ahead as the Czech Republic’s healthcare sector nears saturation.
The Czech government has turned to its allies in Europe and beyond for help. Israel has already agreed to donate coronavirus vaccines, with 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine meant for soldiers working with COVID patients having already arrived in the Czech Republic.
Germany also said its hospitals could treat some COVID patients of its eastern neighbour.
Anger in France over decision to send 100,000 vaccine doses to Czech Republic
For many, France’s promise to send as many as 100,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine could be instrumental in helping the Czech Republic in its fight against COVID-19. Widely praised on Czech social media, the announcement nevertheless sparked mixed reactions in France.
With an estimated vaccination rate of 5.9% (comparable to the Czech Republic’s 5.6%), the French government is under intense pressure to accelerate the vaccine rollout, including among the elderly and health workers, and especially as the virus has once again been gaining ground over the past week. Following the Czech Premier’s announcement, many wondered why France was sending so many vaccines abroad amid reports of shortages at home.
“It feels like they [French authorities] are distributing vaccines to others to ease their conscience” a Twitter user reacted. “[French President Emmanuel] Macron, savior of the world but not of his own country,” another sarcastically added.
French officials have yet to comment on the matter.