On 26 February 2021, a new and widely discussed Act No. 94/2021 Coll., on emergency measures during the COVID-19 disease epidemic and on the amendment of certain related acts (hereinafter referred to as the “Pandemic Act”) was promulgated, with effect from the following day, 27 February 2021.
Therefore, we will take a look below at the changes and innovations that this Act brings to the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in the Czech Republic. Regarding the scope of this article, we will focus merely on aspects relevant to the business area, especially the food industry.
It should be briefly introduced at this point that, together with the effectiveness of the Pandemic Act, the so-called state of pandemic emergency was declared. Such state can be terminated or reinstated by a resolution of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic, adopted on the proposal of the government or one-fifth of all deputies.
Pursuant to the Pandemic Act, the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic or regional hygienic stations (including the Hygienic Station of the Capital City of Prague) may, depending on their territorial competence, order, to the extent necessary and for the necessary period, binding emergency measures listed in the Act.
This list of possible measures is relatively extensive and their impact concerns both the private and public sectors. From the point of view of the business area, especially the activities of the food industry, following emergency measures can be briefly mentioned in particular:
- restriction of public transport or determination of conditions of its operation,
- limitation of activities of a commercial or production establishment or operation of a shopping centre, or determination of conditions of their operation,
- prohibition or restriction of public or private events involving the accumulation of persons in one place, or determination of conditions for such events,
- order to use protective, washing, cleaning or disinfecting equipment and other anti‑epidemic measures,
- order to test the employees and other workers for the presence of the COVID-19 disease.
Other emergency measures on the basis of the Pandemic Act allow, for example to impose restrictions on the activities of certain selected services, especially aesthetics-related services (barbershops, hairdressers, pedicure, manicure, solarium, beauty services, etc.) and recreational services (swimming pools or saunas), restrictions on teaching at universities, further specific restrictions, orders or prohibitions concerning the operation of medical facilities, social services facilities or prisons, as well as restrictions on the operation of critical infrastructure elements concerned.
At the same time, the Act requires that any emergency measures in place be regularly reviewed by the ordering authority, at least once every 2 weeks from their issuance. If the reasons for issuing the measures taken have lapsed or have changed, the ordering authority must immediately repeal or adjust the measures. Also, judicial review of emergency measures within the administrative judiciary is explicitly safeguarded.
In any event, any emergency measures expire automatically with the end of the state of pandemic emergency.
In addition to the above, the Pandemic Act does not affect the authority of the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic and regional hygienic stations to issue emergency measures within the regime of the Public Health Protection Act.
According to the newly adopted Pandemic Act, the state is obliged to compensate actual damage caused to legal and natural persons during a state of pandemic emergency, which is causally linked with emergency measures. However, costs incurred in connection with the acquisition or use of protective, washing, cleaning or disinfecting equipment are not considered to be damage in this respect. Likewise, the state is not obliged to compensate for damage if it proves that the aggrieved party caused it itself.
The aggrieved party may claim damages from the Ministry of Finance of the Czech Republic no later than 12 months from the moment when it learned of the damage, but no later than 3 years from the occurrence of the damage, otherwise the right to compensation expires. Damage is reimbursed to the extent that the aggrieved party proves that its occurrence could not have been preempted or prevented. However, compensation claims are reduced by any amounts of subsidies, repayable financial assistance and other support which the aggrieved party has drawn down in mitigation of the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic or the effects of emergency measures.
The abovementioned method of claiming damages is also a condition to bringing any claim for damages further in court. In this respect, the aggrieved party can claim damages in court only if its claim has not been fully satisfied within 6 months from the date of its submission to the Ministry of Finance of the Czech Republic.
Offenses and criminal consequences
Any non-compliance with an ordered emergency measure is sanctioned by the Pandemic Act as an offence for which a fine can be imposed.
The fine is subject to a statutory maximum, which varies according to which emergency measure was violated and whether the violation was committed by a legal entity, an individual acting in the course of business (entrepreneur) or a private individual. Legal persons and entrepreneurs can be fined for certain offenses up to CZK 3,000,000 (or CZK 4,000,000 in the event of repeated offences). Private individuals can then be fined for certain offenses up to CZK 1,000,000 (or CZK 2,000,000 for repeated offences).
At the same time, the Pandemic Act provides for a possible tightening of criminal sanctions for cases where a criminal offense is committed during a state of pandemic emergency and is damaging to or endangers the society’s interest in managing the COVID-19 epidemic.
Pursuant to the Pandemic Act, the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic is now obliged to publish up-to-date information on its website, including the epidemiological situation concerning COVID-19, an overview of the population risk and of measures associated with various threats, information on valid and effective emergency measures issued under the Pandemic Act or the Public Health Protection Act, as well as other especially statistical information.
Implementation of emergency measures and their coordination
If it turns out to be necessary for the implementation of an emergency measure, the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic is entitled to request the assistance of any basic body of the integrated rescue system. Exceptionally, the Army of the Czech Republic may also be involved. The Pandemic Act also grants the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic a number of other coordinative powers and responsibilities for the purpose of implementing and coordinating the fulfilment of emergency measures.
Term of validity of the Act
The Pandemic Act has been adopted with a limited period of its validity ending on 28 February 2022. However, this restriction does not apply to the provisions of the Act governing damages, offences, judicial review of emergency measures and criminal consequences, the validity of which is not limited in time.
In relation to the unsatisfactory development in managing the COVID-19 epidemic in the Czech Republic so far, the adoption of the Pandemic Act has been a much-discussed topic. However, its hasty adoption takes place in a very turbulent time. It therefore remains to be seen with expectation, what actual effects and impacts the newly established mechanisms and emergency measures will bring to the functioning of the business area in particular.
We continue to monitor closely any further development and other legislation related to the COVID-19 epidemic.
JUDr. Miloš Kulda, Ph.D., attorney-at-law – firstname.lastname@example.org
Veronika Pečová, legal assistant – email@example.com
22. 3. 2021