A popular Czech folk singer has died after deliberately getting infected with the coronavirus, in an apparent move to skirt restrictions limiting access to some venues to people who have been immunized or recently recovered from infection, her family said.
Two days before she died, 57-year-old Hanka Horká, who was reportedly unvaccinated, wrote on social media that she had "survived" the virus and was looking forward to trips to the theater, the sauna, concerts and the sea.
"I'll tell you my secret, yes, I endured, and I survived . . . however, it was very colorful," she said. "Life is here for me and for you too."
Horká's son, Jan Rek, said she deliberately spent time around him and his father after the two men, who are fully immunized, contracted the virus. She had been seeking a recovery pass, he told the British Broadcasting Corp. In the Czech Republic, proof of vaccination or recovery from infection is needed to enter dining and leisure spaces.
The country, like much of central Europe, is experiencing a surge of cases driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, with the Czech health ministry reporting a record 28,469 new cases on Wednesday. As of Jan. 18, only about 63 percent of its roughly 10.7 million residents had been fully vaccinated, below the European Union average of 69 percent.
"She should have isolated for a week because we tested positive. But she was with us the whole time," Rek told the BBC. On Sunday, the day Horká died, she felt better and dressed to go for a walk. But her back began hurting and she went to lie down in her bedroom.
"In about 10 minutes it was all over," her son said. "She choked to death."
Horká was a member of the popular folk group Asonance. A note on the band's website listed the date of her death and a brief statement of remembrance.
Prague is grappling with deepening fissures over health orders and vaccine mandates. The new coalition government, which is led by a center-right alliance, on Wednesday withdrew a vaccine mandate for seniors and many first responders. That order, introduced by the previous administration, sparked protests nationwide.
Rek told the BBC his mother didn't believe in conspiracy theories about coronavirus vaccines. "Her philosophy was that she was more okay with the idea of catching covid than getting vaccinated," he said. But he went public with the story, originally in an interview with Czech public radio station iRozhlas.cz, in the hope of convincing others to get vaccinated. "If you have living examples from real life, it's more powerful than just graphs and numbers."
As the pandemic grinds into its third year and fatigue sets in, some people are questioning whether they should simply get the virus in the hopes of obtaining "natural immunity" - an idea that medical experts advise strongly against, especially for those who have not been immunized. Even people without any underlying health conditions can get severely ill, they say.
A recent study of some 1.2 million people published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that severe symptoms among vaccinated people were "rare," with the relatively small number of fully immunized people who are dealing with significant illness usually having some other risk factors.