Czechs re-declare state of emergency to keep restrictions

Medical workers move a covid-19 patient at a hospital overrun by the covid pandemic in Cheb, Czech Republic, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. The Czech government has imposed a complete lockdown of the three hardest-hit counties to help contain the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus. The meeasures will became effective Friday for the two counties in western Czech Republic on the German border Cheb and Sokolov and another county in the northern part of the country Trutnov located on the border with Poland. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

PRAGUE – The Czech government on Sunday re-declared a state of emergency for next two weeks to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in one of the European Union's hardest-hit nations.

The decision comes in defiance of the lower house of Parliament, which has refused the minority government’s request to extend the powerful tool that gives the Cabinet the extra powers needed to impose nationwide restrictions and limit people’s travel and rights.

The Czech Republic, a nation of 10.7 million, has had more than 1 million confirmed cases, with 18,143 deaths. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, its rate of 915 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks is the second worst per capita in the 27-nation EU after Portugal.

The country has also been facing a surge of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant first found in Britain that scientists now say is more deadly than the original virus. The Czech Republic's three hardest-hit counties, on the border with Germany and Poland, are under a complete lockdown. The number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in last seven days there is higher than 1,100.

Despite the dire situation, some lawyers and politicians, including Milos Vystrcil, the Senate speaker, say the government’s move violates the country’s Constitution. The government denies that, saying its legal advisers support such a solution.

“I’m really glad that common sense has won,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.

The current state of emergency would have expired on Sunday. The government could use other legal options to reimpose some coronavirus restrictions but not all of them.

Without the state of emergency, bars, restaurants and cafes could reopen Monday, service businesses could resume, the nighttime curfew would end and a ban on more than two people gathering in public would be cancelled.