Czech COVID-19 cases surge, government warns on hospital capacity

PRAGUE (Reuters) – New coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic reached a daily record of 4,457 on Tuesday, the health ministry said, as separate data showed the country now has the highest number of cases per 100,000 in Europe, surpassing Spain.

Data published by the health ministry on Wednesday showed the rise in new cases during the previous 24 hours had exceeded the previous one-day record of 3,794, to bring the total number of cases in the country since March to 90,022.

Separate data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control showed that in the two weeks to Monday, Oct. 6, the Czech Republic reported 326.8 cases per 100,000 people. That compared with 302.4 cases per 100,000 in Spain, which has been one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

The Czech government has already reimposed restrictions on businesses and public events after relaxing them during the summer, including banning outdoor gatherings of more than 20 people and shutting secondary schools from Monday.

More measures are expected to follow on Friday to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed by the spike in cases.

“If the government does not launch measures planned from next week, there is a real threat that by the end of October, healthcare capacity would be completely clogged,” Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said. “We cannot allow that to happen.”

Like other European governments, the Czechs are anxious to avoid a strict lockdown of the kind that closed shops, restaurants, schools and many factories in the spring, battering the economy in the second quarter.

While the government has said the health system could cope with several times more COVID-19 patients, adding pandemic capacity has already forced some hospitals to start reducing non-urgent care.

A spike in positive tests to an average 16% of all tests in the past week, more than three times the level seen as indicative the epidemic is under control, has worried health experts.

Some 1,387 people are currently hospitalised with COVID-19, six times higher than a month ago, including 326 in intensive care, an increase of more than five times.

Deaths have also accelerated, peaking at 29 per day on Oct. 4 — nearly 10% of average daily deaths seen in the country of 10.7 million before the pandemic. In total, 794 Czechs diagnosed with COVID-19 have died, including 145 in the week to Oct. 5.

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(Reporting by Jason Hovet, Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka; Editing by Toby Chopra and Catherine Evans)

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