Only way how he can run his city now is via phone and skype. With its emergency team consisting of key politicians and other thirty public officials, city of Říčany (pop. 15 000) is preparing for a more difficult period of the current crisis. Its mayor Vladimír Kořen is a reknowned TV personality. He has been one of the most progressive and popular local politicians in the Czech Republic. He is serving his third consecutive term now.
What preventative measures have you currently adopted?
In Říčany, all important decision-making processes, with the exception of the municipal assembly, were turned into an electronic form last week. We started with the emergency team and representatives of the rapid response teams. People in the field are at the greatest risk. We work in the same way at the council level. It is easier there since we have been using an electronic voting tool for councilors for years now.We are a so-called ORP (Czech for ‘municipality with extended powers’), so we administer up to 52 smaller municipalities with about 70 000 residents. The first contact with the mayors already took place. As the mayor of the ORP, I ordered them to assign a person that would communicate with the emergency team. We proceed according to the Emergency Act, as we really need to deal with this. People had to learn very quickly how to operate with new tools. There are a lot of participants attending the conference calls, so we learned together how to turn on and off the cameras and microphones at the right time and how to ask each other through chat, etc. Sometimes, while the mayors keep it on, an intrusive noise may occur – a child or an ambulance running around. Not everyone is used to it yet.
What action have you taken in regard to the city hall and public servants?
First, our city hall director had to allocate 30 people to the emergency coordination team. We then split them into various teams. They help and solve issues, their agendas have been adjusted. We have also approved a new chapter in our city budget (1 million CZK), devoted to the response of current crisis. For now, I do not know what exactly it will be spent fo. So far we needed to rearrange the contact points in the city hall. We are trying to create a contactless way to engage with public. We want the residents to communicate as much electronically as possible though. I do not find the regulation for the office to be opened for 3 hours a day appropriate. We are concerned that people would want to come in person and there is a risk that it will turn into a dangerous place. However, the state must operate. We also established our own phone-call center. The way it works is that the officials working from home take five-hour long shifts. They received different scripts for answering the public. When a citizen calls the number, they will always be redirected to the official on duty. So far, people do not use it that much, however, we are expecting a surge in the upcoming days.
On what agendas does the city play a key role now?
Definitely communication. It is imperative to pass the information on to people. For my part, the help of the very neighbors is important, although it is not being greatly discussed yet. In my opinion, society needs to be divided into areas of neighborhoods and communities. This could eliminate crowds when shopping, for example. Somebody from one area goes shopping for himself and others, then drops it off contactlessly reducing the risk of spreading the virus. To support this in some way, that is crucial. The state is now not in a condition of organizing the aid for everyone and it has to come from the bottom up – from cities. We need to support this idea in a society that it’s important to help each other now.
Another major agenda is the public transport. Plenty of people are dependent on it, and it is a place with a high risk of infection. Instead of protecting the labor market and companies in terms of keeping production, it could ultimately put them at risk. I would now recommend an individual car ride as the optimal way. In Říčany, we are canceling bus lines now, since it can be risky.
Use of masks is the main topic in recent days. Do you communicate its importance?
For sure. There are many sewing group initiatives now. We are lacking facemasks and respirators in the whole country. We help with distribution but one must be careful. We can not guarantee that these home manufacturers are healthy. Our employees receive the donated facemasks and then iron them first, wearing masks and gloves to keep safety. We then add a warning on the item, saying that citizens must re-wash it.
What do you expect in the upcoming days?
The increased number of infected people is inevitable. Difficult cases will not be evaded and for many people this will be very challenging times. They will require a lot of support. I believe that testing will improve. Infections within families will also grow. Families should be prepared in the sense of one for all and all for one. Ready for the outbreak as it can’t be prevented 100% even with maximum isolation. It should be noted that complications will occur beyond the scope of the disease. We will face family situations when grandparents will be a hospital, parents sick or working and there will be no one to care for their children. We can expect a scenario when there will be in our case literary dozens of uncared-for, very often ill, children. Municipalities will have to step in and help. And I’m afraid the system will have difficulties managing it because it will require volunteers who will have to do the job at risk of getting infected. We must provide them with protective equipment. Thanks to many civic organizations ready to help, I strongly believe we will handle the situation.