Notes from Czechia’s Second Corona Wave

Mime with a face mask (source: ČT 24)

Much like the rest of the of the world, the Czech Republic has been weathering an autumn wave of the coronavirus. While a vaccine seems to be on the horizon for Czechia’s general public sometime in February, the performing arts will feel the repercussions of the pandemic for a long time to come.

Conductor Václav Lux wrote an open letter to the Czech government on behalf of artists: “Enough is enough! Since the beginning of October we’ve been watching the coronavirus reveal, to varying degrees in different parts of the world, the unflattering reality of how art is valued in our society. Even cultures which consider themselves uncommonly supportive of the arts have experienced a brutal awakening from their illusion of the values of European civilization [and must confront] how little it takes…for the arts to find themselves at the very bottom of politicians’ list of concerns.” Lux’s open letter garnered much approval, especially among artists.

Throughout the Czech Republic, performances which involve singing have been forbidden since October 5th (a decision that attracted much criticism for being based on outdated information about singing spreading the virus more than speaking) and live performing of any sort has been shut down since October 12th. Some theaters and ensembles have begun rehearsing again in reduced numbers at the end of November, with the first performances tentatively planned at large venues for the beginning of January.  

The PES scale of novel coronavirus infection risk

On November 13th, the Czech government introduced a complex system for evaluating the urgency of the pandemic threat and the precautions associated with it. PES (an acronym which stands for “anti-epidemic system” (proti-epidemický systém) spells out the Czech word for “dog” (hence the watchdog on the scale above.) The threat number from under 20 points to over 75 points is calculated based on an interaction between the number of new cases in the past 14 days, the number of seniors infected in the past 14 days, the reproductive number, and the percentage of overall tests which are positive. The country is currently under Level 3, which, according to the list of precautions concerning art and worship specifically, means only streamed performances and rehearsals with increased distance between performers are allowed. Testing is merely “recommended.”

Restrictions on culture and worship based on PES level

Employees of Czech cultural organizations supported by the government (most of the larger theaters and galleries) have seen no pay cuts, even as the organizations themselves suffer from lack of ticket sales and sunken costs. Freelance musicians and independent arts organizers have fared worse. The ministry of Industry and Trade is currently sorting through the applications for the second call of the Covid Kultura initiative, which will distribute some 100 million CZK among individuals and organizations from the freelance/independent arts sector (the first call distributed some 900 million CZK to independent arts organizations). Over 600 entrepreneurs from the arts sector applied for support and over 3000 artists applied for a one-time 60 000 CZK subsidy in the second call for applications.

Many arts organizations depend on government grants to continue their activities. Those, too, have been circumscribed, at least in Prague, where the magistrate has had to lower the amount given to arts organizations by 8%.

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