The response from the Czech Republic was so impressive that it was invited by Austria to join a small group of countries, including Norway and New Zealand, which had managed to keep the virus at bay and would share the best. practice.
But that optimistic picture has quickly faded in recent weeks, as the country struggled to contain an infection rate that jumped to 15,000 new cases per day at its peak earlier this month, making it makes the country most affected in Europe. per inhabitant.
All four countries are in some form of lockdown. Hungarian Viktor Orbán had been reluctant to introduce a second lockdown despite the country’s borders being closed in early September, but finally gave in and introduced one this week. He said without it, the country’s medical system would only have a 50% chance of making it.
In the spring, many reasons were given as to why Central Europe was doing so well, including the imposition of early lockdowns and the rapid and widespread adoption of mask wear. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the lockdown came before there was a single death linked to Covid, while in Britain there were 357 dead before the decision was made.
“The measures were launched very quickly in central Europe in the spring. We have almost completely closed the country and we have had no deaths, ”said Richard Kollar, a mathematician at Comenius University in Bratislava, who has studied coronavirus models. “There was also a great deal of public compliance with the metrics, in a way you don’t get elsewhere. And straight away, we started to wear face masks ”
Even taken together, these factors don’t seem to fully explain why Central Europe was so much less affected in the spring, but is so badly affected now.
“We don’t know the exact answer to this question,” said a spokesperson for the opposition-led Budapest city hall in Orbán. “The pandemic arrived in Hungary relatively late in the spring, so there was a bit of time to prepare and look at what other countries have been doing. We were relatively lucky in the first wave, and it may have created a false sense of security for some.
What particularly intrigued scientists was that in the spring there was very little transmission at home. As a rule, when a person was infected, they did not infect others in their household, whereas this time it happens more.
“There hasn’t been a change in the virus, so there must be some other reason the household spread was much lower in the spring and now it’s higher. We see this in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. They see the spread within households as the main driver and they haven’t seen it before, ”Kollar said.
Various theories have been put forward, including that there may have been an outbreak of another coronavirus in the region last winter that provided cross-immunity for a period, but has now dissipated. No one knows for sure.
What is indisputable is that hospitals in the region are now grappling with an increase in the number of patients. Hungary recorded 619 deaths from the virus last week, a huge jump from mid-September when daily deaths were in single digits. The Hungarian government has proposed a big pay rise for doctors, but at the same time demanded that they not be allowed to work in a second job in private hospitals, prompting many of them to consider to leave.
“There are no reserves in the system. We need every professional… If people stop en masse, the healthcare system will collapse, ”Judit Tóth, deputy director of the Hungarian Doctors’ Union, told RTL Klub television earlier this week.
Warsaw and Prague are preparing field hospitals in stadiums to cope with expected influx of Covid patients. “What worries me the most is not the growing number of people infected, but the growing number of people who require hospitalization and intensive care as well as the growing number of deaths,” Roman said last month. Prymula, then Czech Minister of Health.
Over the past week, the numbers in the country have started to gradually decline, and next week the first and second grades of primary will revert to in-person learning. Slovakia, meanwhile, is pioneering a mass testing program in the hope of lowering its own numbers. Two-thirds of the population have been tested with rapid antigenic tests over a two-day period earlier this month, although scientists are divided over whether such a large testing program can yield results.
In Hungary, bars and restaurants were opened and even football matches with spectators were allowed until this week. “There are times when we have to act, without any hesitation,” Orbán said, in an interview explaining the 8pm curfew and other lockdown measures that were finally introduced this week. Even so, her government simultaneously presented a constitutional amendment proposal preventing gender shifts, suggesting that they are as busy waging a culture war as they are fighting the virus.
Opposition to Orbán says he should have introduced measures much earlier. “The government is upset. They seem unable to deal with this in a coherent and coherent way, ”said the spokesman for the city hall of Budapest.
Additional reporting by Flora Garamvolgyi