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Romani experts say Czech Government should supply for free the respirators it has made compulsory

25.2.2021 8:36
From left to right:  Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný, director of Romanonet Michal Miko, community worker Alena Gronzíková and desk officer on national minorities for the Central Bohemian Regional Authority, Cyril Koky. (Collage: Romea.cz)
From left to right: Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný, director of Romanonet Michal Miko, community worker Alena Gronzíková and desk officer on national minorities for the Central Bohemian Regional Authority, Cyril Koky. (Collage: Romea.cz)

This week the Czech Health Ministry has issued exceptional measures imposing a stricter obligation on people to protect their respiratory tracts because of the COVID-19 epidemic. Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný (for ANO) announced the decree would take effect on Tuesday, 23 February and would apply to all public places with higher concentrations of people.   

Wearing a cloth mask will no longer be enough in such places now and people will have to wear either a respirator, a face mask made of nanofiber, or two surgical masks at once. According to several opposition politicians, the Government should give the citizens respirators for free.

News server Romea.cz has contacted experts working with Romani people or in socially excluded localities about the issue, and they have also proposed the state supply respirators for all. The Czech Health Minister has said homemade masks and other temporary coverings of the mouth and nose will no longer be considered sufficient protection.

Compulsory respirators will be a financial problem for impoverished people

"If the Government of the Czech Republic orders compulsory respirators, then first and foremost it should arrange for them to be affordable to the broader public. Personally I would recommend the state supply respirators for a symbolic price or for free. If that does not happen, I am concerned that many people will not comply with the regulation at all," said Cyril Koky, the specialist desk officer in the field of national minorities at the Central Bohemian Regional Authority.  

Alena Gronzíková, who aids the Romani community in the Czech town of Břeclav through the IQ Roma servis organization, is warning that the mandate could be a financial problem for impoverished people. "For a significant group of people who are already struggling daily to meet their basic needs, including food or paying for the roof over their head, the further expense of respirators will be a problem. They simply do not have the money for them," she said. 

"If an impoverished family acquires a respirator, they will use it until it falls apart. The virus will be able to spread all it likes," said Gronzíková, who sees a possible solution as being distribution of respirators by municipalities to citizens in order to prevent the spread of infection. 

"That would be costly, however, and after our first experiences with [public distribution of] surgical masks, it also takes a long time. So another, more feasible option is to provide people with a financial sum to buy respirators in the form of extraordinary immediate aid. The question is how the Labor Office will view that and if that form of aid will also be possible for people who are not already drawing benefits for those in material distress, but who have low incomes nonetheless," Gronzíková said, warning that people are angry and consider the purchase of respirators to be yet another "unnecessary" expense, a measure they believe "will not solve anything" that will make people's lives more complicated.    

Michal Miko, director of the RomanoNet organization, considers the purchase of respirators unaffordable for those who are socially vulnerable. "Unfortunately, I am concerned that many people are not in financial situations that make them able to arrange the necessary equipment and their social exclusion will further intensify as a result," he told Romea.cz.  

Opposition wants Government to give citizens respirators free of charge

Opposition politicians are also asking the Government for free respirators. "If the Government imposes the obligation to wear respirators, then it should arrange for citizens to receive them free of charge," the head of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party, Tomio Okamura, has said. 

"There is money in the budget for this," Okamura noted. According to Czech MP Vlastimil Válek, chair of the TOP 09 club in the lower house, high-quality facemasks or respirators must be made available for free to those entering hospitals, schools or shops. 

"The Government has to pay for this. That is what will aid citizens with protecting themselves," Válek explained.  

Pirate Party spokesperson Karolína Sadílková warned against such measures being announced in a confusing, hasty way. "Once again, the fact that such a measure is announced in a confusing way and so hastily unfortunately just promotes the low level of trust among people in the Government's moves," she said. 

"Another matter is that if the Government orders people to wear respirators, then it should compensate people for purchasing them," the Pirate spokesperson said. After the opposition exerted its pressure, the option of people being given facemasks and respirators free of charge was admitted to by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in an interview with CNN Prima News. 

Last Friday, Prague City Hall and two municipal departments in the capital announced that they will be providing free facemasks and respirators to people in financial distress. The personal protective equipment can be accessed by residents of Prague 7 and Prague 10 from their municipal departments.

Blatný: Wear respirators, two surgical facemasks are a last-resort solution

Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný has recommended people wear respirators that are at least FFP2 or KN95 grade, because they fit the face better and seal it off to a certain degree, but doubling surgical facemasks is, in his view, a solution for those who may not be able to get a respirator. The Health Ministry is also considering imposing the duty to wear a respirator, a facemask made of nanofiber, or two surgical facemasks in workplaces, according to the Chief Public Health Officer, Jarmila Rážová. 

At the beginning of February, the Government cancelled the higher VAT on FFP2 respirators for two months so merchants could lower their retail price. Prior to this week's e change it has been compulsory to wear protection over the mouth and nose in all interior spaces (with the exception of accommodation or residences), on public transportation, and outdoors when it is not possible to maintain more than two meters' distance from others. 

Until now, however, a scarf, shawl or other fabric facemask has also been considered enough. Children under the age of two and those attending nursery school are not required to wear facial coverings.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Government of the Czech Republic, Poverty, Socially excluded localities



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