I am effectively a prisoner in my adopted country

The closed border crossing at Hrensko – Schmilka © Ricky Yates

On Thursday 12th March, the Czech government declared a ‘state of emergency’ which would come into effect at 06.00 the following morning. This was in response to the rapid spread of the Corona virus, in particular, what was happening in northern Italy. Under the state of emergency, most border crossings to neighbouring countries were closed. All foreigners in the country at the time, would be able to leave – and tourists were actively encouraged to do so. But no foreigners would be allowed to enter, or re-enter the country, even those like me who hold permanent residency.

This had an immediate impact on me as I was due to officiate and preach at the monthly English-language Anglican service of Evening Prayer in the Frauenkirche, Dresden, on Sunday 15th March. I had to rapidly compile and send an email, saying that I couldn’t travel and the service was consequently cancelled. Although the Frauenkirche authorities had originally planned to still hold their own 11.00 German Lutheran service, on the morning of Saturday 14th, that too was cancelled, as the German government closed all places of worship.

Since that weekend in mid-March, I have been living in splendid isolation. All my regular activities – helping three young ladies from the village with English, and helping with an adult English conversation class in Decín, have been put on hold. With all bars cafes and restaurants closed, there have been no evenings in Bar-Restaurace U Soni or visits to Coffee & Books in Decín.

Restaurace U Soni is closed © Ricky Yates

I have tried to confine my shopping to a weekly trip to the Kaufland supermarket in Decín. However, once outside of my house and garden, I, like the rest of the population, am required to wear a face mask.

Selfie with face mask © Ricky Yates

Whilst my once every six weeks appointment to see my GP, was cancelled in late March, at my request, the surgery did issue me with repeat E-prescriptions for the three tablets I have to take each day, meaning that I do now have sufficient medication to last me until the end of June.

Seven weeks on from when this all started, where are we now? Well, courtesy of the Czech government acting early and decisively, the virus outbreak in the country has been contained. Hospitals have not been overwhelmed and the number of new cases is declining. So a programme of slowly lifting restrictions over the next several weeks, has been put in place.

Just before Easter, DIY shops, (or hobby shops as Czechs call them), were allowed to reopen. This was something I was most grateful for, as I was finally able to purchase the correct florescent tube for my main kitchen light which had gone kaput nearly four weeks earlier. And hopefully in about two weeks time, bars, restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating areas, will again be allowed to function.

However, there has been no announcement yet as to when I will once more be able to freely travel over the border into Germany and return home at the end of the day. Some days ago, the Czech government did announce that Czechs and foreigners with temporary or permanent residence, can now leave the country via the crossing points that are open, or by air. But in order to re-enter the country, each person must have a test certificate no more than four days old, saying that they are clear of the Corona virus. Otherwise, they have to be quarantined for fourteen days.

Some restrictions on public worship in Germany, are just beginning to be lifted. The Bundesland of Freistaat Sachsen, of which Dresden is the capital, are now allowing Church services for up to fifteen people in certain circumstances. Today I received a four page letter from my diocesan bishop and his suffragan, setting out all things we should and shouldn’t be doing when re-starting public worship. But it does mean that our monthly Family Communion service in Dresden, could possibly be held as we normally only have a congregation of 10 -12. I doubt however, if there will be large services in the Frauenkirche until June or July.

But the problem is, I cannot cross the border to officiate. It is most unlikely that I would be able to find somewhere to be tested in Dresden on a Sunday afternoon or evening. Any test would also be at my own expense 🙁 And I have no intention of being put in completely isolated quarantine for two weeks! So as the title of this blogpost says, at the moment, I am effectively a prisoner in my adopted country.

12 comments to I am effectively a prisoner in my adopted country

  • Pauleen Bang

    Dear Ricky
    Well put. It applies to many of us Brits in different parts of Europe. However, we are the lucky ones since our (Czech/Danish) governments took action early. Here in Denmark, the smallest children have gone back to school and day care, hairdressers, dentists, chiropodists etc. are now open again. Next? Who knows? Parliament is discussing it as we speak – more news at the beginning of next week.
    Take care
    P.S. Still no option to get an email when this is an update to your blog.

    • Ricky

      Thank you, Pauleen. We both have benefited from the prompt actions of our host governments, in contrast to Bungling Boris in the UK & his twin brother on the other side of the pond. Restrictions are being slowly lifted here too, with more shops being allowed to re-open. But no news yet about borders. I do understand the reasoning – most of the early Covid 19 cases here were Czechs returning from skiing holidays in the Italian & Austrian Alps.

      With regard to your PS, I did some days ago, send an email to my tech guru in Spain & am awaiting her reply. In the meantime, there is a second comment which I’m about to reply to & approve.

  • It is strange to feel stuck 🙁 Sorry you are not able to go to Germany – I hope some better measures will be in place soon. You are quite a bit closer to the border than we are here so it must make life quite odd right now. I keep trying to remind myself that I wasn’t planning on going anywhere far this summer anyway… but also to embrace Czech travel this year, I guess.

    • Ricky

      Hi Cynthia! Yet it does feel strange to be stuck here, especially as one of the reasons I chose to retire to Stará Oleška, was to have easy access to Dresden 🙁 Like you, I will try & embrace Czech travel this year, but I would like be able to travel to Dresden & also get to see my children & grandchildren in the flesh, rather than just via Skype or Zoom!

  • Jonathan Hodgson

    Hi Ricky,

    It’s a pity the EU hasn’t been a bit more proactive during the crisis.

    Apart from the odd uninspiring speech by Ursula von der Leyen, it’s been pretty much absent, except for the rather undignified wrangling at its economic summits about who’ll foot the colossal bill resulting from the downturn.

    I know health falls under the competence of each member state, but you’d think a crisis of this magnitude would bring them together to discuss how to move forward on a collective basis.

    In your particular case travelling to Dresden would appear less problematical than, say, Brno, but the EU has reverted to shutting down its internal borders, which is completely at odds with its philosophy.

    • Ricky

      Hi Jonathan,

      I concur with much of what you say here. Certainly the EU should have been proactive right from the beginning, even allowing for the fact as you rightly state, that health comes under competence of the individual member states. Very pleased to read a short while ago, that the Czech Foreign Minister, Tomáš Petrícek, says he is in negotiations with the country’s four neighbouring states, for the coordinated re-opening of borders from the beginning of July.

  • Sean McCann

    Hi Ricky,
    Good to see you’ve not succumbed to the dreaded virus, you look very strange in your highwayman persona 😉 The total change of lifestyle and indeed life itself over the past seven weeks is stunning and surreal, sometimes it’s difficult to know which day of the week it is. In Ireland we are required to stay home unless our journey is for essential work, essential (i.e. food or hygiene) shopping or essential medical or care of sick or elderly family members. We are not required to wear masks in public, almost everyone is wearing gloves when in shops and filling stations. Some are masking up, some are wearing plastic visors and raincoats and masks and gloves! They’re looking like extras in a post-apocalyptic movie and wiping down each individual item they purchase before putting it in their car. Most streets and roads are deserted and there is a faintly frightening atmosphere to our towns and countryside.

    Your responses to Pauleen and Jonathan above bring two weirdly comical aspects of Covid19 Lockdown in Ireland to mind.

    Firstly; your reference to President Bleach and Bungling Boris reminds me of the old Stealers Wheel song ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’. We Irish are in the position of ‘Clowns to left, jokers to the right, here we are, stuck in the middle (alone)!’

    Secondly; discussion of open or closed borders and EU policy brings to mind the vociferous demands of many over the past seven weeks that Ireland’s border with the UK should be closed and guarded by our police and army because of differences between British and Irish health policies and restrictions, etc. The ones demanding closure of the border are usually the political element who were most set against any border on the island of Ireland during the recent Brexit debacle! Truth is stranger than fiction.

    I hope you will soon be able to travel freely to Dresden and elsewhere and return to your normal religious duties, seeing churches of all denominations closed is disheartening and very difficult for the many faithful in all our countries. As a grandfather I too feel your yearning for your grandchildren, modern technology is a poor substitute for a kind word and a hug.

    Take care Ricky and hopefully the end of the tunnel is near.

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean,

      No – I haven’t succumbed to the virus though I am deemed to be ‘at risk’ being over 65 and with a pre-existing health condition. I know what you mean about things seeming surreal these past 7 weeks. The sight of Prague with no tourists comes into that category!

      Regarding Ireland being ‘stuck in the middle with you’, I have photo of a map of the island of Ireland with the caption, ‘Trump to the left of me, Brexit to the right. Here I am stuck in the middle with you’. Unfortunately, I can’t find a way to put it into this reply.

      And yes, truth is stranger than fiction. In the past couple of weeks, the Sunday Times & the Daily Mail, two newspapers usually staunchly supporting Bungling Boris, have both published excellent accurate articles, pointing out the many failures of BB & his cohorts, in their handling of the Corona virus crisis. I never thought I’d see that happen!

      As I said in reply to Jonathan, the Czech foreign minister wrote this weekend, that he is in discussion with neighbouring governments, seeking a coordinated approach to re-opening borders with the aim of doing so at the beginning of July. As Czechs frequently say, Uvidíme – we’ll see 😉

      As always – thank you for visiting and commenting again.

  • Hello, Ricky,
    I have two simple things to comment on – firstly, should you really wish to travel to Dresden, you are permitted, as it is linked with a job, and that type of travel is already possible; regarding the necessary test that is required upon return – as you yourself are aware, it must not be older than 4 days. Which means you can get it in CZ for example on a Friday prior to the service – if such testing can be arranged in Decín for example, and if your German parish would be willing to cover the cost. I have heard one of the regional head hygienists (public health officers) mention this possibility for those who would be making just a short trip abroad.

    Secondly, for you (and your fellow commenters’ convenience), I have recently discovered a FB group that focuses on nice places in CZ, which may come in handy if one plans a local holiday – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1885786211527559/. So far it seems to me there are more posts from Bohemia than from Moravia, so you’re in a good position to visit many interesting places around you. However, should you decide to venture as far as South Moravia, you’ll be very welcome over here as well. 🙂

    • Ricky

      Hello Katka,
      Thank you for visiting & commenting here once again.

      Taking you first point. I was aware that cross-border workers were allowed to travel. However, whether as a semi-retired Anglican priest wishing to officiate at a Church service in Dresden, I would be regarded as a ‘cross-border worker’ by the secular Czech authorities, is open to question. And I don’t have a contract of employment or something similar, to wave at those policing the border. However, that a ‘virus free’ certificate issued on a Friday in CZ, would be accepted on the Sunday following, is news to me & I’m grateful for this information. However, I would have to find someone to pay for it & the Frauenkirche has suffered a massive drop in income because of being closed.

      With regard to your second point, thank you for the link. There are already numerous place in CZ that are on my ‘bucket list’ to visit & I do hope to tick a few of these off in 2020. In the last two sentences of your comment, I do hear the Moravian speaking 😉 In explaining the Bohemia – Moravia divide to visitors from outside of CZ, I frequently cite your remark that, ‘Like many of my fellow Brno citizens, our favourite view of Prague is in the rear view mirror of a car’.

  • Heather Garnett

    Hi Ricky. A most interesting blog. You are certainly trapped at home till the border restrictions are lifted. Anyone returning to UK is now automatically quarantined as a precaution against further infection. We shan’t stray far from home for sometime yet. We are so far well and not stir crazy yet. I miss going out for meals and all the U3A activities and groups but feel happy that we are OK and keeping in touch via Face Book and WhatsApp. Take care and be safe.
    Very best wishes Heather and Fred

    • Ricky

      Hi Heather,
      Glad you found this post interesting.
      I’m sorry to correct you but at present, anyone returning to the UK is NOT quarantined. The UK government are talking about doing so, but haven’t yet implemented it. One of the many examples of procrastination by the UK government in this crisis.

      Here, only Czechs & those foreigners with temporary or permanent residence, have been allowed to enter or re-enter the country since mid-March. They have then had to be in quarantine for 14 days. The impact of this & the other emergency measures can be seen in the figures for the number of deaths due to COVID 19. The current figure for the Czech Republic is that 280 people have died. The country’s population is 10.6 million which is about one sixth of that of the UK. Therefore the number of deaths from COVID 19 in the UK should be about 1680. Instead, the official figure is more than 30,000 & the reality, when care home deaths are added, is over 50,000. Whilst I am somewhat trapped here, I also feel far safer than I would be in the UK.

      Very glad to hear that you’re not going stir crazy! But I also understand how you miss going out for meals, U3A etc. Thank you for both visiting & commenting.