Czechs in chaos with political infighting amid virus surge

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Policemen stop a car to check documents of a driver near the city of Sokolov, Czech Republic, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Almost 600 police officers were deployed to enforce a complete lockdown of the three hardest-hit counties on the border with Germany and Poland to help contain a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus found in Britain. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE – With a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant gaining force, the already hard-hit Czech Republic was in chaos on Friday after lawmakers deprived the government of a powerful tool to tackle the pandemic.

The lower house of Czech Parliament late Thursday refused the minority government’s request to extend a state of emergency, a measure that gives Cabinet powers to impose and keep in place strict nationwide restrictive measures and limit individual rights.

Ministers have warned the move will further worsen the situation and might cause the struggling health system to collapse.

“The situation is serious,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters Friday evening after meeting President Milos Zeman. “It poses a threat for the health of our citizens.”

Opposition parties say the current lockdown isn't working and accused Babis of not doing enough for businesses and others affected by restrictions.

They also complained that the government has been refusing to take seriously their proposals to deal with the pandemic, and insisted schools should reopen.

The current state of emergency will expire on Sunday night after 132 days. The government can use other legal options to reimpose some measures but not all of them.

“We will immediately apply all those remaining options we have,” Health Minister Jan Blatny said. “(But) they're not as effective” as powers under the state of emergency.