Czech Republic expands shutdown in bid to halt Covid-19 surge

Russia sees record rise in cases and Poland's premier goes into quarantine

A dessert in the shape of the Covid-19 virus in a cafe in Prague. Photograph: Michal Cizek / AFP via Getty

A dessert in the shape of the Covid-19 virus in a cafe in Prague. Photograph: Michal Cizek / AFP via Getty

 

Czech primary schools, pubs and restaurants will close from Wednesday as part of emergency measures introduced by an embattled government that says it now has just “one shot” to avert a major winter coronavirus crisis.

Prime minister Andrej Babis has admitted lifting restrictions too quickly in early summer after the Czech Republic dealt well with the initial outbreak of coronavirus, and in the past fortnight the country has posted the fastest per capita growth in infections in the European Union.

The country of 10.7 million people, on Tuesday, had 62,170 active cases of Covid-19, with 2,146 people being treated for the disease in hospital – a figure that has doubled since the start of October, fuelling fears for how the health system will cope in the weeks and months to come.

“We are aware that we have one shot, and one shot that has to be successful so we manage the growth of the epidemic this time as well,” Mr Babis said when announcing the latest measures.

Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to offer a takeaway service only until November at the earliest, and primary schools will follow secondary schools and universities in moving to online classes. Indoor sports centres and cultural venues such as theatres, cinemas and museums closed on Monday. Public gatherings will now be capped at six people and mask-wearing will be mandatory in more places.

Mr Babis said he had spoken to officials in Poland, Hungary and Germany about the possibility of moving Czech patients there if his country’s hospitals ran out of beds.

Criticism

“I was told they would have some capacity ... but I prefer to hope that I won’t need their help and that we’ll manage on our own,” he told Czech media, as opposition leaders lambasted the populist billionaire’s handling of coronavirus.

“The government and prime minister are personally responsible for the Czech Republic’s fatal unpreparedness for the second wave of the pandemic, for underestimating the situation, for the chaos, and also the consequent economic damage,” said Petr Fiala, leader of the Civic Democrats.

Czech officials said on Tuesday that 4,310 new coronavirus cases were recorded on Monday, taking the country’s total to 121,421, of which 1,051 have proved fatal.

Neighbouring Poland reported 5,068 new cases, its second-highest daily rise, which took its total number of infections to 135,278. The country of 38 million has lost 3,101 people to Covid-19.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced he was going into quarantine after coming into contact with someone last Friday who subsequently tested positive for coronavirus.

“I am in constant touch with my colleagues and the government is working normally,” he said.

Russia registered twin daily records of 13,868 new coronavirus cases and 244 deaths from Covid-19 yesterday.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health and safety watchdog, said that “although we see numbers rising, in Russia today we are not talking about ‘blocking’ the economy or halting any kind of activity or enterprises or sectors of the economy, because as of now we do not see any point in this”.