Speeches

21. 9. 2020 23:24

Prime Minister´s extraordinary speech

Prime Minister´s extraordinary speech, 21. September 2020.
Prime Minister´s extraordinary speech, 21. September 2020.

My fellow citizens,

our pleasant summer has ended and autumn is upon us, and once again we find ourselves in a very difficult situation. As always, I will be honest and candid with you.

The epidemic is back, unfortunately. Infection numbers are soaring.

In recent days we have been presented with scenarios that left me considerably uneasy. It was like at the start of March when analysts showed us mathematical models that were hard to believe, but three days later, when they proved right, we moved quickly to adopt essential measures. By doing so we saved thousands of lives. That’s why we coped with the first wave so well.

Towards the end of spring we had the feeling that the virus had gone and we lifted the requirement for face masks to be worn anywhere on July 1. By then we had all had enough of the restrictions: we all wanted to breathe freely and enjoy summer in the way we’re used to. That was after we became one of the first countries in Europe to stop the spread of the disease. We had a minimum number of deaths, which maybe lulled us into a false sense of security that the virus isn’t so bad. I, too, let myself get carried away by the start of summer and the atmosphere in society. That was a mistake I don’t want to repeat. Since March we’ve been working round the clock to tackle this unparalleled situation that nobody could have been prepared for.

But as we see around us and read in the media and on social networks every day, our society is divided. There are people who wear facemasks and support all the pandemic measures, but there are also people who regard the virus as an ordinary flu. I can understand that for the younger generation, because most of them are asymptomatic when they are infected and go back to their normal lives after quarantine. But for older people, who may have health complications such as high blood pressure, lung or heart diseases or diabetes, coronavirus is a serious risk. And it is older people and the sick we have to protect.

I’ve heard that some citizens don’t wear facemasks as a form of protest against the government and government measures. To those people I would say this: you’re not wearing facemasks because of Babiš, Vojtěch or Prymula, but for the sake of your parents and grandparents, your nearest and dearest, your friends and acquaintances.

This is not about politics any more – nobody wants to impose restrictions on others just for fun. Facemasks are not a threat to liberty and democracy. But not wearing them puts lives at risk. I myself have seen cases, mainly in Prague, of people flouting even the most basic instructions. Not wearing facemasks isn’t a question of individual liberty, but rather personal comfort. Yes, it’s tiresome and not particularly pleasant to wear them, but they save lives. And as prime minister I simply don’t want to permit a situation where we have millions of infected people and thousands of deaths.

Today I read one social media comment that I’m afraid sums up the situation in the public space perfectly: “Almost everyone’s an epidemiologist now.” But unfortunately the most half-truths and errors are also being spread by some doctors who aren’t epidemiologists. Their pronouncements serve to sow confusion, not to mention the massively shared social network posts that advise people not to wear facemasks.

And if someone says we should follow the example of Sweden, which has the same population as the Czech Republic, I would say that Sweden went down a herd immunity path that resulted in a total of 5,865 people dying with Covid there. What’s more, all cultural events for more than fifty people are banned there. In other words, the restrictions there are stricter than they have been in the Czech Republic so far.

It’s clear that many people don’t and won’t like the measures. But we have to comply with them now. For our sake, for the sake of others and so that we get through this wave relatively unscathed again.

The three basic measures:

Hands, masks, social distancing.

Our government tries to think of all groups of the population. Big and smaller groups, employees, tradespeople and employers. And we will continue to do that, because we don’t want to press pause on the economy again like we did in spring. At the same time, however, we have to think about protecting our citizens’ lives above all else. The decisions are not easy to make. But we are trying to strike a balance between protecting our people’s health and our economy’s health.

I’m saddened by the neverending rows, attacks and accusations. So let’s leave all that to one side for the moment – the time for a reckoning will come. The situation is serious, but I know we can cope with it because our nation has always managed to come together in difficult times.

I want to express my gratitude to all our public health specialists, the army, doctors, nurses, medics, laboratory workers, IT experts, police officers, fire fighters, first responders and volunteers! They’ve been through a tough time. But an even tougher one lies ahead.

I want to thank all of you who have united in an effort to stop the epidemic, even if that means nothing more than wearing the hated facemasks.

I also want to thank health minister Adam Vojtěch, who announced his resignation today, for the work he has done for the healthcare system. He’s a decent, honest and very hard-working person I once brought into the Ministry of Finance and basically took under my wing, so I have a special relationship with him. He brought decency and honour to politics, and I’m convinced that we will look back on him one day as the best health minister we’ve had. He did more work in his department than most of his predecessors. He handled the fight against the first wave incredibly. I understand that it must have got too much for him, that he was sick and tired of politics and the media and decided to leave. I say thank you to him. For everything. And I wish him all the best in his life and subsequent career.

Now we must see if we can respect the fact that we all live here together. Everyone must answer the question whether he is willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort and convenience for the sake of others.

Let’s all be honest about whether our unwillingness to temporarily alter our behavior is worth somebody else dying, perhaps even someone close to us. None of us want that.

We can cope, but only if we come together like we did in spring. And that is why we have to be responsible, considerate and consistent in complying with the rules. It will be hard for everyone.

What comes next?

We must rapidly complete the integrated system with high-capacity call centres. We must ensure there are enough testing centres and laboratory capacities that will give people the result of their test within 48 hours. We must launch a self-reporting system that will speed up the entire process and save time for public health staff and citizens. And we must make sure there are sufficient hospital beds for Covid patients with serious and very serious symptoms. It’s important that the declared capacities of regional and university hospitals are immediately made available and, above all, are in line with reality. Even more important is to protect our healthcare workers at any price.

We don’t want to shut down the economy and put people at risk of unemployment. Just like you, we only want effective measures that will restrict our lives as little as possible.

Please help us with this! Let’s come together again. We beat coronavirus once, we’ll beat it again. I am confident we can cope again.

Andrej Babiš, prime minister 

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