The government, led by the prime minister, Andrej Babiš, has trumpeted mask-wearing as vital in controlling the spread of the virus and has urged other governments to follow suit.
The Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia are the only two countries in Europe to impose mandatory mask-wearing, the supposed benefits of which – although endorsed by the World Health Organization – are disputed by some.
The arguments in favour are explained in a government-sponsored video that features an appearance by the Czech health minister. Adam Vojtěch.
“The Czech Republic is one of the few in Europe that has significantly slowed down the spread of the virus,” the narrator says. “The main difference is that everyone who has to leave their house has to wear a mask.”
But rather than provide the masks itself, the government has relied on the initiative of ordinary Czechs to ensure compliance with a rule issued days after a general emergency was declared that sealed the central European country’s borders and closed all but essential shops and services – a move that transformed the tourist hub of Prague into a virtual ghost town.
Pharmacies have put up signs declaring that they do not provide specially made surgical masks, which are already in short supply for health professionals.
Fashion students at Umprum Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague were spurred into action after a plea was posted on Facebook for masks for one of the city’s biggest maternity hospitals, Podoli.
“The students are making hundreds and hundreds of masks,” said Alice Klouzkova, an assistant and teacher at the academy’s fashion design studio. “Most of them have sewing machines at home and are happy to work with their hands. It’s important that the material is made with 100% cotton so it can be sterilised.”
Robert Tait in Prague