(Adds details on hospital bed orders, background)
PRAGUE, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will start building capacity for COVID-19 patients outside of hospitals, government officials said on Thursday, as the country battles the fastest rate of infections in Europe.
Interior Minister Jan Hamacek told CTK news agency the army would start building an area for 500 hospital beds at a fairground in Prague from Saturday.
Both military and healthcare personnel will staff the makeshift hospital, Hamacek told Czech television.
COVID-19 infections have nearly doubled in October alone to a total so far of 139,290 in a country with a population of 10.7 million. The Health Ministry reported 9,544 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, its highest one-day tally so far.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters it was necessary to start building extra capacity and that the state would purchase 4,000 beds from hospital and nursing bed maker LINET.
"We don't have time, the outlook is not good. These numbers are catastrophic," Babis said.
Earlier this week, the government shuttered bars, restaurants and clubs and shifted schools to distance learning as it imposed new measures to curb the fast spread of new infections.
The number of hospitalisations has risen 161% in October to 2,678, with 518 patientes in intensive care. Deaths have climbed to 1,172, up 75% this month.
The fast rise in cases has put strain on hospitals, which are converting general wards into COVID-19 units and cancelling non-urgent procedures to cope. The number hospitalised is six times the peak seen during the first wave of the virus. (Reporting by Jason Hovet and Michael Kahn; Editing by Richard Pullin, Alex Richardson and Gareth Jones)
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