Czechs face ‘hellish’ Covid-19 fight as new surge hits central Europe

Poland and Czech Republic reimpose restrictions as Slovakia seeks EU vaccine help

Medical workers move a Covid-19 patient into an ambulance in Cheb, Czech Republic. Photograph: Petr David Josek/File/AP Photo

Medical workers move a Covid-19 patient into an ambulance in Cheb, Czech Republic. Photograph: Petr David Josek/File/AP Photo

 

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis has said his country faces a “hellish” period in the pandemic, as it joins neighbouring Poland in preparing to tighten restrictions again to quell a new surge in infections across central Europe.

The Czech Republic has recorded the highest per-capita rate of new Covid-19 cases in the European Union in recent weeks, and Slovakia registered the world’s worst death rate from the disease relative to size of population.

“As regards healthcare, hellish days are ahead of us, and that is why we must react,” Mr Babis said before a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening at which the reimposition of stricter controls was to be discussed.

“We are convinced that measures need to be tightened up and changed. If we don’t do that, then in the next two weeks we will really have huge problems in our healthcare system, which is at the limit of its strength,” he added.

“Until we vaccinate, unfortunately we need to restrict ourselves again and endure this period until we have vaccinated enough of our fellow citizens to allow us to start thinking about loosening again.”

Mr Babis’s government won praise for taking swift and decisive action against the virus last spring, but after admitting that he ended lockdown too early last summer, he has been accused of reacting too slowly to subsequent developments and going through a haphazard cycle of easing and tightening.

ICU numbers

The country of 10.7 million reported 15,672 new cases on Wednesday, about 3,000 more than a week ago and the biggest daily climb since early January; Czech hospitals are now treating 6,817 Covid-19 patients, 1,389 of whom require intensive care.

“On March 1st, it will be a year since the start of the pandemic [in the Czech Republic], and unfortunately it seems that on the anniversary, the situation in our country will be worse than during this whole dramatic year,” Mr Babis warned.

Germany has told the Czech Republic that it is ready to help by taking some of its patients, and Slovakia thanked Romania for sending a team of intensive care doctors and nurses to support its overworked medical staff on Wednesday.

Slovak foreign minister Ivan Korcok made an appeal to other EU states this week that “if they have a vaccine they cannot use at the moment, to provide it to us”.

“I fully realise that other countries have a vaccine shortage as well, but Slovakia now – also based on the fact that we have the highest death rate – at the moment needs it most.”

Poland tightened entry rules on Wednesday for people arriving from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and said broader restrictions on schools and public spaces would be reimposed in a northeastern region with a particularly high infection rate.