Czech government to toughen measures, curb movement to fight virus surge

by Reuters
Friday, 26 February 2021 18:40 GMT

(Releads with PM Babis comments and state of emergency vote)

By Robert Muller and Jason Hovet

PRAGUE, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The Czech Republic must strictly limit people's movement and contacts to reverse a rapid surge in COVID-19 infections, returning to the type of lockdown put in place a year ago when the pandemic first hit, government officials said on Friday.

The country of 10.7 million, in which one in 10 have been infected in the past year, has the highest per capita infection rate in the world over the past week, according to the Our World in Data website, 10 times higher than Germany.

The government is planning to close all school classrooms, restrict more shops from opening, and limit travel around the country to essential trips only. It is due to detail the new measures later on Friday.

Health Minister Jan Blatny told parliament earlier on Friday that daily infections could rise above recent highs of 18,000 in the coming one or two weeks and remain at those levels without tighter restrictions. The country reported 14,000 new cases on Thursday.

The government lost a parliamentary vote on Friday to extend a state of emergency into March, but Prime Minister Andrej Babis' minority government immediately called a new state of emergency effective Sunday for 30 days, which it can do without parliament's consent.

Opposition parties criticised a similar move this month, but some have acknowledged the situation has changed with the country facing new variants of the virus.

Babis, who said this week "hellish days" were ahead, called on people to respect measures even as lockdown fatigue grows.

"What we need is for people, who are frustrated... and they want to have their normal lives back, we need (them) to behave for three weeks the way they did in March 2020," Babis said.

The country managed relatively well compared to some in Europe during the initial phase of the pandemic, but new waves have hit it hard, even with non-essential shops, restaurants, services and entertainment venues closed almost continuously since October. Schools have mostly moved online, with only pre-schoolers and first- and second-graders going to their classrooms.

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition is at a record and hospitals are near capacity, with some transferring patients hundreds of miles away. (Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.