March 18, 2020 / 3:36 PM / 18 days ago

From former first lady to Boy Scouts, Czechs ramp up home mask production

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The former first lady and wife of the late Vaclav Havel uses old theater drapes. Boy Scouts work with donated material, while others cut up old T-shirts as Czechs create home-made masks to fight the coronavirus.

Hong Nhung Strnadova sews pieces of clothes to make face masks at her apartment as a protection from the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Prague, Czech Republic, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Even before the government ordered people to wear masks or use something else to cover their mouths and noses when in public from midnight on Wednesday, Czechs had already ramped up their own home production lines.

Pictures on social media showed people waiting in line several meters apart in front of fabric stores while former first lady Dagmar Havlova began making masks from theater drapes and discarded linen from a villa she shared with president Havel.

“We are not enough and we are tired,” Havlova posted on Facebook. “We need mainly seamstresses now. If you are from Prague and can work, let us know.”

The country has reported 464 cases of coronavirus infections with no deaths so far. Like other EU countries, the Czech Republic has shut borders and virtually locked the nation down to try to contain coronavirus contagion.

The order to wear masks in public came with the nation of 10.7 million facing a shortage of protective supplies, forcing many Czechs to produce their own following anger that front-line healthcare workers often lacked protective gear.

The government - which ordered fabric shops to remain open so people could buy material - has dispatched planes to China to bring back protective equipment and Czech billionaire Petr Kellner’s PPF investment group donated supplies.

“It’s a spontaneous reaction to the situation,” said Pavel Strnad, 32, who posted signs around the neighborhood asking for material he and his family could use to sew masks. “We are sewing from t-shirts and other fabrics that we have at home.”

Many like the Strnads are donating masks to senior citizens or medical professionals after reports that many healthcare facilities and doctors’ offices lacked protective gear.

A survey from the association representing social service providers found nearly half the group’s members had run out of masks while the group representing general practitioners recommended they shut down if offices lacked protective gear.

Researchers at Prague’s technical university vowed to share technology they had developed to produce masks using a 3D printer while Boy Scout leaders called troops into action.

“We started when we were asked if we could do something like this and we said only if we did it ourselves,” said Jiri Robenek, a scout leader from the Moravian region. “When we have enough to distribute, we deliver them straight to where they are needed.”

Additional reporting by Robert Mueller and Jan Lopatka, Editing by Giles Elgood

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