There are currently more new Covid-19 cases per million people recorded in the Czech Republic than in any other major country in the world. On Friday, more than 11,100 new cases were reported in a single day, a new record. In the first 17 days of October, more people have died of the virus in the Czech Republic than during the previous eight months of the epidemic combined. The Czech Medical Chamber and the health minister have called on Czech doctors living abroad to return home to help fight the virus. Medical students and people with medical training have also been encouraged to come forward. More than 1,000 qualified nurses who've left the profession have offered to come back to help.For now, the Na Bulovce hospital has enough beds for everyone. But it's preparing for the worst. "We have other back-up beds prepared in other departments in case the capacity exceeds our current possibilities," said Dr. Hana Rohacova, the head doctor at the hospital's infection disease clinic. This weekend, the government began setting up a temporary field hospital in Prague. Czech Health Minister Dr. Roman Prymula told CNN he expects the extra beds will be needed as soon as the end of this month. It's a stunning development. Less than two months ago, the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis boasted his country was among the "best in Covid."While the Czech Republic is technically experiencing the second wave of the epidemic, the first one this spring looks like an insignificant blip on the radar in comparison to the current state. The Czech Republic was once one of the most successful countries in Europe at controlling the spread of the virus. Babis' populist centrist government moved quickly to close the borders and implement a nationwide lockdown. Many other countries did the same, but what set the Czechs apart was the requirement to wear face masks by everyone, everywhere outside of the home.Czech data scientist Petr Ludwig was among those pushing for that mask mandate back in mid-March, months before western health authorities or even the World Health Organization was recommending them.Ludwig had just flown from New York to Prague, and says he was the only person on his flight with a face covering. When he arrived home, he dug through the scientific evidence supporting face coverings and made a YouTube video explaining why he was convinced masks were the answer. The Czech-language video attracted more than 600,000 views, in a country of only 10 million.An English version of the video has been viewed more than 5.7 million times.Days later, Babis announced the mask mandate. "We didn't convince the government, we convinced public by [social media] influencers and then government followed because our government is slightly populist. So they followed the opinion of the public," Ludwig told CNN. Medical masks were in short supply at the time, which was one of the reasons why the WHO didn't recommend their use. Faced with the shortage, thousands of Czechs dusted off their sewing machines and became part of a wartime-like effort to make and distribute masks where they were needed. One group of volunteers created an interactive map of need which resulted in more than 600,000 masks, made mostly by individual volunteers, to be handed out around the country. The Prime Minister was converted — he even tweeted some advice to US President Donald Trump on March 29, "Try tackling virus the Czech way. Wearing a simple cloth mask, decreases the spread of the virus by 80% … God bless America!"Most Czechs obeyed the mask rule. The measure wasn't particularly popular with the masses, but it was wildly effective in controlling the spread of the virus. And it made the country an outlier. "Some people from the WHO, for example, told us that this is nonsense. Many other countries around Czech Republic told us that wearing masks is nonsense. But the Czech people were doing well," said microbiologist Dr. Omar Sery, who was also one of the early advocates for face masks.The Czech Republic's first wave of infection peaked in late March at 408 cases in one day. The highest single-day death toll was just 18, in April. On June 30, the Czech Republic recorded no new Covid-19 deaths. That same day, an outdoor street party in Prague celebrated the end of the pandemic. Masks were not part of the dress code. Theaters reopened, indoor dining returned, people were allowed to travel abroad. Even Babis, the Prime Minister, went to Greece for a vacation.In almost every way, the country had regained the normalcy that people in across Europe were craving. It wouldn't last long."We didn't see dead people, we didn't see people with coronavirus in hospitals — the Czech people thought that this is nonsense and we don't need to wear masks," said Dr. Sery.
Bosnia: Icy struggle for many migrants stuck in freezing tents
Thousands of refugees and migrants urgently need proper shelter in Bosnia-Herzegovina after weeks outdoors in freezing cold, the UN has warned.
Some 2,500 people are in unheated tents or sleeping rough near the northern town of Bihac. A UN official says some are now being moved to heated tents.
Local authorities have refused to reopen a nearby reception centre.
Instead hundreds have been forced to return to a temporary camp that was ravaged by fire last month.
Peter Van der Auweraert of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has tweeted photos of the basic tents erected at the Lipa camp by the Bosnian army a few days ago.
But his latest post is upbeat. Lipa is carpeted with heavy snow, he says, so the relocation of migrants to heated tents, now under way, is an “important step forward”. The new tents were brought in by the army.
The camp was set up hastily in the summer when the coronavirus pandemic forced crisis measures including border closures.
But aid agencies pulled out of the camp in December, saying it was unsustainable without water and electricity.
Some residents forced to leave the facility looted equipment and set fire to tents, police said.
However, about 900 migrants had to go back there, after local officials refused to let them move to the empty reception centre in Bihac. Another 1,500 are struggling in primitive conditions elsewhere near the town.
The migrants are from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and got stuck in Bosnia while trying to reach Croatia, an EU member state seen as a gateway to the EU.
Some of the migrants have refused to use the tents in Lipa because they lack heating and sanitation. Some also went on hunger strike, angry at the lack of amenities.
But on Tuesday many did receive Red Cross food parcels.
“We want people in proper reception centres where they have access to services, like the 6,000 other people in Bosnia,” Mr Van der Auweraert, the IOM’s head in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told the BBC’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey at Lipa.
The IOM says about 8,500 non-EU migrants are living in Bosnia, still hoping to get to northern Europe.
“Here is too much cold. You know, the weather is rainy and the weather is very cold, and we can’t sleep in here,” one migrant told our correspondent.
In recent years thousands of people, including refugees from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, have entered Bosnia hoping to get asylum in the EU.
Bosnia’s central government ordered the reopening of a reception centre in an old factory on the outskirts of Bihac, but the local authorities refused.
The city’s mayor, Suhret Fazlic, told the BBC: “We are not satisfied with approach of EU – people coming from Greece and Bulgaria want to get to Croatia, but stuck in Bihac.”
The EU has told the Bosnian authorities that they “must assume their responsibilities”. The country of 3.5m has ambitions to join the EU.
On Wednesday the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU had funded the still empty shelter in Bihac, but Bosnian officials had “ignored repeated appeals to provide basic and secure living conditions and humane treatment”.
His spokesman Peter Stano said “over the last two years, we provided over 90m euros (£81m; $110m) for centres, equipment, medical and social care.
“We need them to move – not play political games with people’s lives,” he complained.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55589090
Covid: Sweden official defends Christmas trip to Canary Islands
A top Swedish official involved in the coronavirus response has defended a Christmas holiday in the Canary Islands in the face of heavy criticism.
Dan Eliasson is head of the civil contingencies agency, which earlier in December had texted all Swedes urging them to avoid travel.
He was photographed in Las Palmas airport on the island of Gran Canaria.
Mr Eliasson insisted the trip was necessary “for family reasons”.
He told Swedish media that he had “given up a lot of trips during this pandemic” but thought this one was necessary because he had a daughter living in the Canaries.
“I celebrated Christmas with her and my family,” he told Expressen newspaper. He also said he had been worked remotely while in the Canaries.
Sweden has had 437,000 confirmed cases and 8,700 deaths – many more than its Scandinavian neighbours. The country has never imposed a full lockdown.
However, alarmed by rising numbers of cases last month, the Swedish government reversed some of its guidance and sent a text message to all Swedes asking them to read updated guidelines.
The guidelines included asking Swedes to avoid unnecessary trips and not to make new contacts during a journey or at the destination.
Mr Eliasson was then photographed several times in Gran Canaria, including at the airport.
There have been calls for Mr Eliasson, an experienced official who has worked at several important departments, to be fired.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other ministers have not yet commented, according to Swedish media.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55523587
UK regulator approves Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine
UK regulators have approved the use of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals and could in time offer a route out of the pandemic for large parts of the world.
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