Report from the town of Žďár nad Sázavou

21-03-2020

How does a partial lockdown feel in a small Czech town? The government declared a state of emergency more than a week ago. There is a ban on travel, schools are closed as well as most shops and other public institutions. Vít Pohanka lives in the town of Žďár nad Sázavou and sent this report.

Žďár nad Sázavou, photo: János Korom, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0Žďár nad Sázavou, photo: János Korom, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Illustrative photo: panos13121, Pixabay / CC0Illustrative photo: panos13121, Pixabay / CC0 Several times a day, the town council makes public announcements that are broadcast through the loudspeaker system installed in virtually every street in town. The town officials remind citizens that they have to wear masks wherever they go, in the streets in all public places. Especially if we go to the local clinic and the town hall. There are no restrictions on activities in public parks or open spaces around the town. So, the streets are not completely deserted. You can even see some children playing outside. Small groups only and all of them wearing masks, I should add.

Now, about masks and ventilators. If there is a single problem that people around me see as a failure of, I dare say, colossal dimension, it is the lack of these items. I know this has been a subject of debate for some time already. Based on what I hear from people around me, it really undermines the trust people have in the ability of the government to act effectively in a situation like this. Be it as it may, I see people respecting the rule to cover their mouths and noses wherever they go, even if they have to improvise, use homemade masks or scarfs.

Local train station, photo: Pohled 111, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0Local train station, photo: Pohled 111, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 Good thing: public transport is still running, albeit on limited schedules. Žďár is a relatively small town of some 20 000 inhabitants but it is spreads around the Sázava river for quite some distance. Especially senior citizens rely on local buses to get around and it seems a good thing they can still do so.

Trains are running, too. The government owned Czech Railways did cancel some express trains in other parts of the country. Obviously, they have been running virtually empty in the past few days. But when I checked our local station in Žďár I learned that all links to Prague and Brno are running as usual. This does matter: the town is on one of the two main lines between these two most populous cities in the country. And there is another line connecting the towns in the area such as Nové Město na Moravě and Bystřice nad Pernštejnem and surrounding villages. A lot of people are relying on trains to go to work and generally get around.

Local “gymnázium”, photo: Palickap, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0Local “gymnázium”, photo: Palickap, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 All the banks are closed, of course as are most other businesses with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and some other shops selling daily necessities. There are some six supermarkets in Žďár, I went to three of them and there was no sign of any shortages. Rather on the contrary, it seemed that they brought in extra stocks of toilet paper and some other sanitary items. Like in other places in the country, there was a bit of a shopping fever even before the state of emergency Was declared. So, it looks like the management took extra precautions to ensure that there are no shortages.

I spoke to several teachers and officials when I was recording a program about the unexpected massive exercise in e-learning that the closure of schools has brought about. It is a kind of a mixed picture. Some teachers especially in elementary schools have difficulties to reach their pupils, some of the pupils complain that they cannot open or work on the exercises their teachers send out for them to work on. I have a teenage son and daughter who attend our local “gymnázium”, secondary school or high school in American English. As far as I know, they are in contact with their teachers, have plenty to do and are working on their assignments for several hours each day.

So, life seems to be going on fairly normally, here in Žďár nad Sázavou. People I meet and see around me are coping as well as they can. If they have complaints and criticism, they seem to keep it to themselves. I suppose the biggest worry I have personally is that it will go on for too long and people will start losing patience with the situation.But right now, all seems well and calm.

21-03-2020