Pandemic Civic Response Bulletin: Czech Republic

Application deadline: 
June 15, 2020

Even when we have to keep our distance, people around the world are coming together like never before to help their communities face the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis. We’re not public health experts, but we wanted to share some new ideas that have already been put into practice in an effort to fight the virus and mitigate the social impact of the pandemic. Here are a few standout examples from the Czech Republic that can serve as inspiration for civic initiatives elsewhere. In the upcoming days and weeks, we’ll be sharing more exciting projects from other countries.

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No facemasks to be found? Make your own and hand them out!

Jitka Cardová offered her flat, her sewing machines and her seamstress skills to volunteers and helped them make masks. Prague, 2020. Photos by Antonio Cossa.

Like other countries, the Czech Republic came up short on protective masks. So Czechs dusted off their sewing machines and got to work making washable masks and delivered them to hospitals, stuffed them in post boxes and even hung them on trees in public parks. A group of IT developers, graphic artists and digital mapping pros came together to create an online map connecting those in need of a mask to those sewing them. Dozens of local facebook groups have popped up with members sharing tips on how to sew the masks, which have quickly become a pro-social fashion trend. One volunteer has opened up her flat for mask production, sharing her space, sewing machines and skills with other volunteers to produce 50 masks per day.

Stopping disinformation in its tracks

It’s not just a serious virus spreading. So, too, is disinformation about the coronavirus, including dubious health advice and dangerous conspiracy theories. The Czech chapter of the “Elves,” a network countering trolls spreading disinformation online, launched a new project aimed to help seniors, who are often the target audience for dodgy online content. Called “Mail for Grandma”, the project uses chain emails, a common source of disinformation consumed by seniors, but instead the elves send accurate, confirmed information. Those who want to receive the emails have to sign up for themselves.

Moving classrooms online

Classrooms are empty, but that doesn’t mean learning has to be put on pause. A group of IT pros with experience in online education and teleconferencing called We Teach Online are helping schools at all levels set up online courses and teaching them how to use tools like Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom.

Re-channelling your social capital

A Million Moments for Democracy, one of the most influential Czech civic awareness movements in recent history and organisers of the 2019 mass protests in response to the Czech prime minister’s corruption scandal, have mobilised their vast network across the country in solidarity to disseminate accurate information and connect those in need with those offering help. Their Help Map has hundreds of entries organised by category and locality of volunteers offering everything from free grocery delivery and dog walking for seniors, to retired teachers offering free Skype lessons for children at home following school closures.

Bringing together the sharpest minds in tech

Data Against Covid, a collections of Czech IT firms and IT enthusiasts has launched a slew of projects attacking the crisis with data and smart solutions. Many of their projects focus on tracking and stopping the spread of the infection, for example through Bluetooth tracking mobile apps and GPS tracking. This “Smart Quarantine” now being tested by the government, with the consent of the person who tested positive, aggregates data from telecoms and electronic payments to create a map of everyone he or she came into contact with and warn those who may be infected. The initiative pledged to delete all data afterwards.

Tapping university expertise

In response to the shortage of respirators for medical personnel treating coronavirus patients, Czech researchers asked, “Why not just print them?” A team of researchers at the Czech Institute of Computer Science, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC) has developed a respirator that can be printed on industrial 3D printers or produced by injection molding technology. There are 8 printers in the Czech Republic capable of doing the job, and the companies who own them have all volunteered their full production capability for printing the respirators, which are reusable after cleaning the device and replacing the filter. They estimate they can produce 500 respirators per day for hospital staff in need at a cost of less than 40 euros per device.

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