During the COVID-19 crisis, the Czech Republic has experienced shortages of protective equipment (masks and respirators). What little was available was saved for the most vulnerable workers - doctors, nurses, social workers etc.
On March 14 (two weeks since the first confirmed case), a speaker, writer and social media influencer Petr Ludwig made an educational video on the importance of wearing masks, not as a protection for yourself but to protect others in case you are unaware of being sick and are not showing symptoms. The video cites a study by researchers from University of Cambridge which concludes that surgical masks are 3x more effective than home-made masks, nevertheless they recommend home-made masks as a last resort when surgical masks are not available. As of March 22, the video had 560k views and was shared and promoted by many other Czech influencers.
As the shortage of masks provided by the government continued, hospitals reached out on social media and asked if people may be able to sew a few masks for them because they were running low. In an unprecedented show of support, many people started making masks, not just for the hospitals but for everybody. The effort was both individual - people making masks by hand sewing or on a sewing machine at home, and organizational - theaters, non-profit organizations, small business and factories which normally produce clothes, linens, accessories redirected their efforts into full-time sewing. Local companies were sewing in bulk, supplying hospitals, senior citizen homes, the police or firemen. Masks were delivered to hospitals or to friends and neighbors who would often find them in their mailboxes. In some areas, people created “mask trees” where they would put available extra masks that were up for grabs for others.
There was a surge of YouTube and written tutorials on how to make a good face mask, including tips like which materials to use, how to make them fit etc. Celebrities started showing off their home-made masks and popular singers recorded a song about masks emphasizing the message that it’s about being responsible towards others and not spreading the virus.
A number of websites popped up which coordinated sewing and distribution effort. The websites include a map of where they have extra masks and if institutions need masks, they can add themselves to the map with their needs. Facebook group “Czechia Sews Masks” has 33 000 members and contains tips and tricks on how to make the mask as well as pictures of all the masks that were created as part of this effort.
As more and more people took to the streets and social media with masks, on March 17 at the daily government press briefing, all members were wearing masks. On March 18 the government announced it was compulsory to wear something covering a part of your mouth and nose when leaving your residence - such as a home-made mask or a scarf. One hypothesis about why the government waited this long to do this is that it would be extremely unpopular to mandate masks if they were not able to supply them. Once almost everyone made their own, the directive was much easier to implement.
Czech mask enthusiasm is likely fueled by their anger towards their government which failed to protect its citizens. Making their own masks is a way of making up for the government's lack of action and taking matters into their own hands. Many were very creative in this task and provided humour and levity in this challenging time (masks for toys, trams, statues).
A shorter version of our story can be found in this video: https://tinyurl.com/utk2jz8
Good tutorials on how to make your own mask:
Gallery of Czechs wearing masks:
Map of available masks in the Czech Republic:
Facebook group: Czechia sews masks:
Material comparison for home-made masks:
English language reporting on Czechia and masks:
Local Czech news:
One of the most popular Czech singers, Lucie Bila, is also sewing
Former first lady and actress, Dagmar Havlová is sewing with her theater costume designer
The Czech Vietnamese community has been especially active in the effort:
Written by Irena Kotíková [email protected]