Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Czech PM is currently more Covid-hysterical than the nation

Maybe his Slovak ancestry (and Slovaks are less rational than Czechs) is showing up?

On Monday, the Czech government underwent an apparently negative development. In the morning, the minister of healthcare Adam Vojtěch resigned, mentioning "previous careful thoughts about the current situation". Many pundits describe the situation by saying that "he has been a scapegoat who was prepared to be sacrificed at a favorable moment for a long time". Now, Adam Vojtěch has been rightfully praised as a key man who helped to minimize the impact of Covid in Czechia in spring and summer.



Let It Be, sung by the fired minister when he was a minister a year ago. It is occasionally out-of-tune but you can hear that he's still a guy with some singing background.

OK, this young man became well-known to many Czechs already in 2005 when he participated as a singer in the Superstar (American Idol) contest. He completed a law school later and was rising in politics, going through the ministry of finance and then ministry of healthcare. Later on Monday, at 8 pm, PM Andrej Babiš thanked Adam Vojtěch and framed him as a child whom "Babiš raised at the ministry of finance".



I find it rather obvious that Adam Vojtěch was fired by PM Babiš (forced to say "I resign") and the actual reasons seem rather immoral to me. First, it seems spectacularly obvious that Adam Vojtěch was a rising star. In the latest, August, poll, PM Babiš dropped to the 2nd place in the approval rate, after a long time. The gold went to the minister of interior and social democratic boss Jan Hamáček (the social democracy was surely believed to be a totally dead party some 5 years ago, the reports of the death were exaggerated) while the bronze was caught by Adam Vojtěch, the outgoing minister of healthcare.



I think that PM Babiš is just afraid of this competition and that's a main reason why Adam Vojtěch was fired. Babiš said that "politeness" was a "disadvantage" of the outgoing minister. Oh, really? It was surely an advantage according to the approval rate. Only PM Babiš turned it into a disadvantage because he doesn't like when some other politicians around him are doing too well! Babiš's comment that "I [Babiš] have raised Adam Vojtěch at the ministry of finance [which was led by Babiš before he was the PM]" sounded like "I created him so I have the right to liquidate him, too". Sorry, Mr Babiš, but you have created absolutely nothing here. Lots of the advantages of the minister – his calm mood, ability to communicate (rather different from yourself) – were given to him by God; and the key training was delivered to him at the law school. Your having "authoritatively" screamed at Adam Vojtěch at the ministry of finance in no way contributed to Adam Vojtěch's being a quickly rising political star – which was just shot down now. And even if you had created him, you have no moral right to destroy him, just like parents don't have the right to kill their children.

Aside from being a handsome model, Adam Vojtěch was widely praised for being polite and communicative. While he was still viewed as an American Idol singer, he led a ministry that was far more pro-science and pro-medicine than the average minister of healthcare. How did it happen? It happened simply because Adam Vojtěch talked to (and listened to!) lots of Czech doctors, directors of hospitals, epidemiologists etc. and the bulk of them have regained their composure and they totally know that Covid-19 is just approximately comparable to flu in its overall health impact – it's more severe or dangerous in some respects and milder in many other respects. So Covid-19 isn't something that the whole ministry of healthcare should be obsessed with (let alone the whole society) and indeed, Adam Vojtěch was doing lots of other health-related things as the minister recently. The minister hasn't undergone a proper medicine training but he absorbed lots of the expertise from the physicians. A lesson seems clear: a singer with the right moral characteristics may be a great minister of healthcare!

So this outgoing young minister was often heard as saying that the situation basically continues to be fine, the hospitals are ready for a vastly higher number of patients etc. Despite the immense hype about the second wave (or deteriorating situation) in Czechia, we've had about 500 hospitalized people and about 100 serious people for many weeks. It may very well be the late 2020 peak, too. But the hospitals are ready for 30,000 patients (beds) including 3,872 serious cases (1,200 ICUs plus 2,700 AROs) and 957 of the serious beds are empty and waiting now (again, only 100 are used by patients with Covid now); Covid is clearly a negligible fraction of the healthcare system's work. Adam Vojtěch was much less pro-restrictions than he was in spring because he knew that the doctors (and also the public) were far less pro-restriction now. The uncertainty has evaporated. Sweden has tested the hypothesis and it did great. One-half of Swedes have gone through a form of the disease and they're fine. You don't meet millions of Swedes who have e.g. long-term neurological problems. You may be pretty sure that a person who reports such amazing things is a liar and a charlatan.

At noon, we learned the name of the successor: Colonel Roman Prymula. An epidemiologist and a former director of military hospitals etc. He seems intelligent, is more pro-hysteria (although vastly less pro-hysteria than almost all counterparts in other countries), and he's co-published some influential enough scientific articles, too. I was told he's been good at chess. All these things are fine but his style and what he symbolizes seem worrisome to me. He was still an important boss of a Covid response team in spring when we had the draconian lockdown. And I think that much of his experience is about obeying orders to vaccinate lots of soldiers by some suspicious substance somewhere and to count how many of them feel lousy. Sorry, it's not the real deep science as the science done and understood by some of the more academic folks – and his practical expertise is less relevant for the general public than the experience of the directors of some big regular hospitals for the public.

But fine, I was saddened by the choice because I had expected that we would move further away from the spring doldrums, and perhaps explicitly announce herd immunity as the plan (which even Sweden failed to do). Babiš promised to give a 10-minute-long speech at 8 pm on Monday. I was terrified what we were going to be told. On Sunday, that speech was marketed as a "big replacement" of the usual informal "Ciao the People" that the prime minister publishes on the social networks every Sunday.

Just a week earlier, "Ciao the People" said that the situation was more or less fine, there was a deathless day, hysterical journalists are distorting the truth, and great tracing teams know very well what they are doing and they're basically in control of the situation. Last night, he wasn't relaxed at all. He put on a face mask (which has been extremely unusual for more than two months), and he was visibly spreading some panic porn.

We have some regional and senate elections at the beginning of October. I honestly can't understand how this strategy may possibly be good for Babiš. It is very clear that the "cases" won't drop to "near-zero" in those 12 days. Instead, he may add the anger of the people about the face masks and canceled events and other things. Also, I don't understand the people who think that this abrupt change of the prime minister's mood is a good thing. It is an extremely bad thing. He is proving to be an untrustworthy man. In the most recent opinion poll, his ANO movement only got 27.5%, visibly down from the peaks near 35% that he's had for many years. Restrictions (and perhaps even face masks) are very unpopular in Czechia now. I can't imagine how his fanatical support for face masks may help him in the elections. My guess is that he will get much less than 30%.

When it comes to "real events", his speech was a non-event. He didn't announce any lockdown, stay-home order, and he even didn't announce the duty to wear face masks outside. He reiterated that he didn't want to harm the real economy. But as some people correctly point out, even the mandatory face masks are harming the economy (although I am confident that the effect is much smaller than a full closure of businesses) because people feel uncomfortable in the businesses and avoid them.

But when it comes to the "psychological mood" conveyed by the speech, it was rather terrifying. OK, he picked the face masks as the key weapon, praised our spring record, and considered the abolition of the face mask duty (the complete abolition of the nationwide duties came on July 1st; it was preceded by the abolished face masks outside a month earlier etc.) to be a big mistake. He was manipulated by the public to make this mistake, he said. Oh, really? The public didn't do any mistake. A majority of Czechs knows very well why we want to cancel these restrictions which became a recurring farce. And if he is responsible for a big mistake and he was unable to oppose that mistake, maybe he should resign, right?

Babiš insisted that the masks should have been kept throughout the summer (no! It's been great that Czechs have been among the few priviliged nations that stopped the hysteria at least during the summer) and he presented the Covid situation in dark words that conveyed the idea that people who dare to oppose or ignore the face masks are killing their ancestors, an emotionally manipulative cliché that I consider a clear sign that the speaker is above the threshold of panic porn and has jumped the shark.

But it was much worse than that. He screamed at the Internet users like me (and, apparently, singers like Janek Ledecký, Bára Basiková, and perhaps Lucie Bílá) who oppose the Covid hysteria although they are not epidemiologists and explicitly mentioned doctors who are also against the Covid hysteria (almost all of them are). They should shut up, his speech basically said. I am sorry but when someone who was trained as a Moroccan retailer of šit has the power to silence the doctors' opinions about medicine, we are in huge trouble. That's exactly on par with Hitler's suppression of relativity and Stalin's suppression of genetics. You know fudging nothing about science, Mr Babiš, and you have absolutely no right to suppress people's freedom of expression, and especially the doctors' freedom of expression, when it comes to these scientifically loaded topics. These doctors have much more balanced opinions than some cherry-picked narrow people who were basically trained to be hysterical about every infection and to try to use every infection to become important. The propagation and severity of a flu-like disease isn't a rocket science. People who have some background in viruses (or experience with the treatment of similar diseases) and in "statistical and mathematical reasoning" (like "modeling of the propagation inside their heads") simply have enough expertise for their view to be relevant. And even if it were wrong, they simply have the basic constitutional right to share their ideas. The main extra "advantage" of the likes of Colonel Prymula is that they have been trained to obey orders (and to issue orders to others). But that's not an added "scientific expertise"; it's just a worrisome characteristic that may send us towards totalitarianism.

At some level, Colonel Prymula is also popular, perhaps especially among the older Czechs, so the replacement isn't necessarily negative for ANO if you only look at the two ministers. But the apparent motivation of the replacement (Adam Vojtěch had to go because he was doing too well) as well as the likely sign "what it means for the future" must be damning for most Czechs, at least most Czechs who can think a little bit. So I really don't believe that this "look how tough I am" exercise by Babiš will improve his result in the regional and senate elections in 12 days. His speech was an annoying waste of time, pundits (and I) seem to agree that the speech was inauthentic and written by a totally different person, and it was aired on the public TV because I think that this program would be uncompetitive at 8 pm on the commercial TV stations.



The fairy-tale Coronula about the Covid spring in Czechia. "-ula" was added to many words for a better comical effect. Some words like Prymula obviously didn't need to add anything LOL. Babiš has also attacked Sweden in his speech. Oh, they have had thousands of deaths with Covid and they still ban some mass events, he said: we surely don't want that. Oh, really? But the ban on certain mass events is just a detail of their current policy which is in no way "a totally necessary part of their broader plan" (I surely think that they should lift all such restrictions). Out of the 5,860 Swedish deaths with Covid, less than 900 had Covid as the direct cause. And even if you thought that 5,800 is the number, it's still a very small percentage of the 100,000+ people who die in Sweden every year. Swedes primarily don't have to be afraid of anything since the epidemics was clearly just a two-month-long episide that is totally over. Millions of Czechs want the same!

Babiš also claimed that the duty to put on a face mask is no violation of civil rights. I beg to disagree. It's a violation that is actually totally analogous to the duty to wear burqas or niqabs or hijabs in the Islamic world. After all, they're almost the same thing! In fact, we could even say that the Covid hysteria is a religion that is totally analogous to Islam. While Islam says that Allah is great and the most important thing in the world, the Covid religion says that the coronavirus is catastrophic and the most important thing in the world! Maybe 10,000 Newyorkers died with Covid in 2020 but 3,000 Newyorkers died in 2001 because they didn't worship Allah! What is the fudging difference? The mandatory face masks are really an attack on the basic religious freedoms. (Thank God, at least the secular France started to behave in a secular way. Even kids who are tested as Covid-positive have the duty to attend the school now!)

Meanwhile, nothing remarkable is happening about Covid in Czechia although we may be close to a peak. The daily cases peaked above 3,000 on Thursday but they went down to 2,000 twice and then below 1,000 on Sunday, returning to some 1,500 on Monday. The bigger jump of the cases was probably from the kids who were back to school (Sept 1st and lots of the infections from the new-school-year episode were found by our heavily focused Smart Quarantine testing) but a week later, we reintroduced face masks in public indoor spaces and there are other reasons why a slowdown or at least some stabilization could be expected right afterwards. The deaths are safely below 10 during almost all days (522 in total now) and the hospitalized, serious cases oscillate around 500, 100, as I said, tiny numbers. At the same moment, I think that the number of cases is high enough so that we are drifting towards herd immunity in some 2 months and our relatively mild restrictions (face masks duty) seem unable to stop the drift towards the herd immunity. It's completely meaningless to slow down this march towards the herd immunity now. We know for sure that the hospitals and ICUs won't be overwhelmed and the slowdown is just adding weeks of annoying misery which are absolutely unnecessary.

The Covid restrictions are clearly among the most important political topics of 2020. I plan to vote for the Tricolor Movement because I am a paying registered supporter but I am actually not sure whether the whole (or official) movement's attitude towards the disease is my cup of tea (the movement seems irrelevant enough politically so far that I don't do much research to find out what they say etc.). If there were a political party that would be staunchly against the hysteria and restrictions, I might pick it now despite some likely other vices of the movement. For example, social democracy was never my cup of tea and their economic policies etc. are universally wrong. But the strength of this wrongness would be mild relatively to the correctness of the hypothetical anti-hysteria attitude of the party. (This is just an example, I don't really think that social democrats are clearly anti-hysteria.) A clearly anti-hysteria party would achieve a great result in the elections, it's too bad that no one has appeared on the political spectrum to realize this self-evident demand by the voters.

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