Tuesday, June 30, 2020

July 1st: end of nationwide Covid restrictions in CZ

Czechia had some kind of a lockdown since March 12th, before there was any "fatality with Covid" in the country. On March 18th, after just 3 days in which the experimental "face mask meme" spread to many corners of the Czech society, we became the first white nation with mandatory and omnipresent face masks (many of which were homemade at the beginning). In late March – which was arguably the peak of Covid hysteria – the percentage of Czechs who walked outside with face masks exceeded 98%.

Yo Yo Band: Karviná, 1993, an extremely famous post-Velvet-Revolution song. In the most recent week, the miners' town of Karviná in Northeast Czechia (well, Moravian Silesia) became "our closest proxy to Bergamo", beating the "cases per capita" in other towns by orders of magnitude, but still at negligible levels. [Accidentally, I just had a call with a woman in Karviná who wanted my electricity to be moved to Innogy LOL.]

For some six weeks since March 12th, many shops and almost all restaurants were closed. Some factories including Škoda Auto were shut down for a month or so. During these six weeks, it was gradually becoming more certain that the number of newly infected Czechs was dropping (the statistical significance of this proposition was going up). The hysteria was correspondingly fading away during April. In late April, a 5-stage plan to reopen Czechia began. First, small shops were opened, restaurants could be opened in the takeaway regime, some sports activities were allowed etc. Things looked really good so the 5th stage was sped up and merged with the 4th stage which was in late May (instead of June 8th as initially planned). For more than a month, we didn't have to wear any masks outside.

Today is the last day when we still have to put on face masks in the shops, public transportation, and other interior spaces. At the beginning, the face masks were our national idiosyncrasy or a cult symbol. Later, they were becoming normal when other nations copied the policy. But Czech experts as well as ordinary folks were increasingly certain that the face masks were the main thing that actually mattered – and probably the only policy that had an impact on the propagation of the disease.

OK, the policies will become really simple since tomorrow, July 1st. All shops and businesses seem to be open in almost all regions of Czechia. In the Pilsner Region and 11 other top-tier administrative regions of Czechia, face masks in the hospitals will be the only restriction that will continue and that regular citizens must have in mind, as far as I can realize. There won't be any mandatory masks anywhere else in almost all of Czechia. I say it with some pride: Just like we were the first ones to introduce the face masks, we are the first ones who almost fully throw them away. Believe me that a huge number of cashiers in supermarkets and in other jobs are extremely enthusiastic about the looming liberation out of the "muzzles". Some people don't mind the masks much (it is more or less OK with me) but some people just suffer.

From July 1st, the only places with required face masks will be hospitals across Czechia; the subway in Prague (but not buses, trams, and trolley buses in some other cities like Pilsen); and indoor events with 100+ participants in Prague (but not in the rest of Czechia, in the "countryside" as defined by the Prague folks). In the current outbreak area in the Northeast, they will return a month to the past. Face masks will be needed in all public indoor spaces and pubs must be closed between 11 pm and 8 am. However, the region affected by this "reminder of the lockdown" is tiny, indeed: it is the "area of extended authority" of 7 rather small towns: Karviná, Frýdek-Místek, Frýdlant nad Ostravicí, Jablunkov, Bohumín, Havířov, Orlová, Český Těšín, Třinec. They're in the region where we had some (ultimately successful for us) minor territorial disputes with Poland.

While the number of new "cases" per day was as low as 18 a month ago, we had 303 on Sunday (announced on Monday) and 202 a day later. However, we're not led by hysterical liars so the health minister and other epidemiological bosses made it clear that there's nothing like a second wave. The high number of "cases" is overwhelmingly due to the systematic testing in the outbreak areas which are very small. You may want to look at the first map on the statistics page which shows the Northeast district of Karviná with 248 people per 100,000 citizens found as infected in recent 7 days. Most of Czechia's districts have 0 cases in 7 days and most of the rest have fewer than 4 per 100,000. And don't misinterpret the map: the Karviná district is some 1% of Czechia but the May-style restrictions only hold in a small percentage of this district!

While the number of cases is made high by this focused testing, it is very clear that the disease is basically defeated everywhere. For a month, we had some 1 death a day (the total is 349 now). There are 128 hospitalized people now (the peak was 446 on April 9th); and 12 of them are serious cases (with a ventilator or extra-body blood circulation; the peak was 103 on April 7th). Our ICUs ["JIP"] are ready for the increase of the serious cases by two orders of magnitude. Some 65% of 11809 cases have been cured. This percentage was already as high as 72%, the reopening and switch to focused wrestling was guaranteed to lower this percentage again.

The authorities have returned to the old modus operandi which they have followed basically from our first case on March 1st: trace the movements of the detected infections in order to find others. Apply geographically pinpointed restrictions. In early March, these things were done but around March 12th, the government decided "it wasn't enough" (because everyone else was copying this opinion from others, too) and PM Andrej Babiš showed that the power was firmly in his hands. So the policies were rather strict, fast, not quite China-like but we were arguably closer to the communist China than anyone else in Europe.

And it just worked because the number of daily infections actually went down before any Lombardy-like peak was reached (without this condition, it is absolutely pointless to restrict anything). Now, the public bosses are performing the Smart Quarantine which is a somewhat advanced method of the search that uses the GPS historical data of the newly found infected citizens (from cell phones and usage of payment cards, aside from rarer sources including the "You Have Caught Covid From Someone Haha" apps [eRouška and Mapy.cz] that are only used by a small number of people). Everyone thinks that this is enough now; I think that it was always enough and all the draconian measures since March 10th or so were just wrong.

Assuming that most Czechs are right and the face masks were the only thing that helped, there is another question: is the low number of fatalities permanent, or – assuming that we won't restore the mandatory face masks and other restrictions (i.e. we will really behave as Sweden from now on) – will we get Sweden's 5500 deaths (instead of our 350 deaths) sometime in the winter? It's a rather elementary question but I am not sure about the answer. It seems plausible to me that a big part of Czechs actually got immunized by tiny doses of the virus (leading to unmeasurably low concentrations of antibodies which are still enough to protect lives) that have made it through the face masks. It seems to be the only mechanism that could guarantee that even with Sweden-like "let it be" policies in the future, we will keep much tinier number of deaths than what Sweden has. Another possibility is that we were better at protecting the vulnerable groups.

Well, a Celtic friend actually found one more possible reason, a racial one. Slavs including us may have some percentage of the DNA which is Central Asian or Mongoloid, something that would be used to support the meme that we were Untermenschen, and it might be true that the Mongoloid race is less affected by this virus (e.g. because it was engineered to have this trait, but this speculation is in no way a necessary part of the explanation).

On February 12th, I believed that the hysteria would be over on February 15th. That was spectacularly wrong, of course. But it's true that there was a moment in March in which I believed that we would have April-like restrictions (and face masks) even in the summer and maybe in the fall, too. So my expectations have occasionally been overshot in the opposite direction, too. Even in a country like mine that regained its common sense rather quickly, the economic losses have been enormous (the 2019-2020 year-on-year GDP drop is predicted between 6 and 10 percent). They could have been a tiny fraction of that. Sweden has had 5,500 and this number is already increasing slowly because most of the territory has reached the herd immunity. Sweden's GDP drop will arguably be much smaller than ours (or other countries'). 5,500 is much higher than our 350 but it is still much lower than some 100,000 that die every year in a nation of the Czech or Swedish size (10M). Even if our "saving of the lives" was due to the restrictions, not genetic differences, and even if we will avoid Sweden's 5,500 fatalities, I still think that it's absolutely insane to sacrifice 6-10% of the GDP (and much of it may be a more permanent drop) for prolonging the lives of these 5,000+ people. On the other hand, the overreaction could have been even worse (by orders of magnitude) and especially much much longer so I am thankful to God that we "only" had a massive enough lockdown for some 2 months, comparable to the Wuhan province. And there exists at least a slightly defensible perspective that the restrictions actually made some sense and led to some benefits.

I am worried that many other nations in the Western direction aren't this happy – they are largely controlled by dishonest people who have the economic misery as their agenda. Sensible people in such countries need to start a fight to return their countries to normalcy as soon as possible.

Some Covid-related pages on Czechia:

* the detailed statistics page
* Seznam.cz maps of the world, regions, districts in CZ
* How to get €65 tests at the Prague airport etc.
* Traffic light map of Czech districts (current)
* Traffic light map of Europe (current: Portuguese, Swedes can only enter via exemptions)

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