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Czech Republic COVID restrictions: PM Babis defies MPs to extend state of emergency

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Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the move was "common sense".
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the move was "common sense".   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
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The Czech government has defied MPs and re-imposed a state of emergency to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš confirmed on Sunday the declaration would remain in place for two weeks to tackle an increase in coronavirus cases.

The state of emergency gives the Czech cabinet extra powers to impose nationwide restrictions and limit people's travel and rights.

The decision comes despite a vote in the lower house of Parliament last week, which refused the minority government's request to extend the measure beyond 14 February.

The Czech Republic has been one of the European Union's hardest-hit nations for COVID-19 cases, with more than 1 million confirmed infections and over 18,000 deaths.

Despite the dire situation, some politicians, including Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil, said the government's move violates the country's constitution.

Opposition parties have argued the current national lockdown has not limited the spread of the virus, and have accused the government of not doing enough to support businesses affected by the restrictions.

Just 48 lawmakers out of 106 supported the government's motion to re-declare a state of emergency, meaning that bars, restaurants and cafes could have reopened on Monday and the nighttime curfew would have been lifted.

But after an extraordinary meeting with state governors, PM Babiš stated that the authorities needed to maintain strong powers during the health crisis.

"The end of the state of emergency would mean a de facto easing (of restrictions) and we cannot afford that," Babis said.

"I'd like to thank the governors, who understand that it's of the utmost importance for us to do the maximum to protect the lives of our citizens,'' Babis said.

The minority government has denied violating the country's constitution and says that its legal advisers have supported such a solution.

"I'm really glad that common sense has won," the prime minister added.

Regional governors have also requested changes in the government's approach to the pandemic, including mass testing of employees financed by the state, and a gradual return of children to schools in March.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the rate of 915 new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks in the Czech Republic is the second-worst per capita in the EU after only Portugal.

The country has also been facing a surge of coronavirus variants, and authorities in neighbouring Germany have closed borders.