With new infections soaring due to a highly contagious COVID-19 variant and hospitals filling up, one of the hardest-hit countries in the EU is facing the inevitable: the tightest lockdown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Friday said the new series of measures is necessary “to protect the lives of our citizens.”
“We have to do it prevent a total collapse of our hospitals,” Babis said. “If we don’t do it, the whole world will watch Bergamo in the Czech Republic.”
He said his government made mistakes in dealing with the pandemic in the past, but called on the Czechs to abide by the rules that are becoming effective tomorrow for three weeks, with a goal “to stop the virus and return to normalcy.”
Among the strictest restrictions, the government is set to limit free movement of people by not allowing them to travel to other counties unless they go to work or have to take care about their relatives.
“If it’s possible, stay at home,” Czech Minister of the Interior Jan Hamacek said.
Hamacek said the measure would be enforced by police and military forces.
If people go out for sports or just a walk, they should not leave their municipality.
Further measures include the closure of nursery schools and schools for children with disabilities that until now have remained open.
Only the stores with essential goods are to remain open.
“It’s not the best timing, it is in fact late,” Jan Konvalinka, a biochemist and vice rector of Prague’s Charles University, told Czech public radio. “But better late than never, we have to stop it somehow.”
Konvalinka is a member of a group of scientists who have urged the government to immediately apply strict restrictions to reduce the number of new daily infections to 1,000 confirmed cases.
It was 14,457 on Thursday, about 2,750 more than a week earlier.
Czech Minister of Health Jan Blatny said the new cases might likely surge to about 20,000 a day in next week before the new measures make an effect.
Amid a surge of the variant first identified in the UK, of the 7,176 coronavirus patients in Czech hospitals on Thursday, a record 1,531 needed intensive care.
Another potentially dangerous variant first detected in South Africa has also been confirmed in the country this week.
To help the struggling health system and prevent a collapse, the government has been discussing with Germany and Poland an option to send Czech COVID-19 patients to their hospitals for treatment.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 68.83 new cases per 100,000 people on Feb. 11 to 99.94 on Thursday, the worst per capita rate in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The nation of 10.7 million has had more than 1.2 million confirmed cases, with more than 20,000 deaths.
In an attempt to boost the vaccination program, the Czech Republic has approached EU nations and others asking them for vaccines for which they do not have immediate use.
Babis said France has agreed to send 100,000 doses by the middle of next month.
About 5,000 Moderna doses have been donated by Israel, a close ally.
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