Prague holding off on lockdown decision until early November

Czechs await result of current measures to stall infection as Italy braces for more action

Demonstrators in Prague, including football supporters, protest against the Czech government’s measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. Photograph:  Michal Cizek

Demonstrators in Prague, including football supporters, protest against the Czech government’s measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. Photograph: Michal Cizek

 

The Czech Republic, which has the highest coronavirus infection rate in Europe, will wait at least two weeks before deciding whether to order a full lockdown to stem its epidemic, deputy prime minister Karel Havlicek said on Sunday.

Italy, the first country in Europe to be hit hard by Covid-19, is also experiencing a sharp rise in cases and is preparing new measures to combat the spread of the virus.

In the Czech Republic, bars and restaurants in the country of 10.7 million have been ordered in the past week to close except for takeout orders, and schools have moved to distance learning. Sport and fitness clubs, theatres and cinemas had already shut, but shops have remained open.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said the Czech Republic had registered 828 cases per 100,000 population in the last two weeks, more than 10 times the rate in neighbouring Germany.

Since schools reopened in September, the cumulative number of cases has risen almost seven times. Officials have warned that hospital admissions are set to rise sharply until the restrictions show an impact.

“We will not decide this week about a lockdown,” Mr Havlicek said on Czech Television. “We have clearly said we will wait [until November 2nd] for results.”

Field hospitals

Interior minister Jan Hamacek said on CNN Prima’s Sunday show that the new measures should cut the R number, which measures average spread from one infected person, by 30-40 per cent. A number above 1.0 indicates an exponential increase, and the current rate is estimated at about 1.4.

If the latest restrictions are not effective enough, he said there were few options other than a lockdown.

The growth in Covid-19 cases, with over 100,000 this month bringing the total to 171,487 as of Saturday evening, and 1,402 deaths overall, is forcing authorities to make plans for field hospitals and seeking foreign help.

The Czech Fire Rescue Service said it had sent a formal request through European Union channels for ventilators.

In Prague, more than 2,000 sports fans according to city hall estimates, including militant soccer supporters’ groups known as ultras, protested against the coronavirus measures, defying restrictions on gatherings.

Police used water cannon and tear gas amid clashes. Emergency services reported nine people were injured.

Italy registered 11,705 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the health ministry said, up from the previous record of 10,925 posted the day before, as the government prepares fresh measures to battle a second wave of the disease.

Italy has the second-highest coronavirus death toll in Europe after Britain, with 36,543 fatalities since the outbreak flared in February, according to official figures.

Mandatory masks

Authorities had managed to get contagion largely under control by the summer thanks to a rigid two-month nationwide lockdown but, as a second wave has emerged, they have ordered new measures, including mandatory mask wearing in public and restrictions on public gatherings and restaurants.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte was to announce further measures late on Sunday.

Covid-19-related deaths on Sunday increased to 69, up from 47 the day before, the ministry said – far fewer than at the height of the pandemic in Italy in March and April, when daily fatalities peaked at more than 900.

The number of intensive care cases reached 750 on Sunday from 705 on Saturday after hitting a low of about 40 in the second half of July.

Ministers have ruled out a repeat of the lockdown imposed at the start of the crisis but officials have looked at a range of alternative measures to reduce social contact.

Transport minister Paola de Micheli said on Sunday the government was not considering a France-style curfew but said schools and companies would be asked to adopt a staggered timetable to avoid congestion on public transport.

Stricter measures have been already imposed in some of the hardest-hit regions, including Campania around Naples, which has closed schools for two weeks.

As a part of a new €40 billion stimulus package the government approved in its 2021 budget, Rome will set up a €4 billion fund to compensate companies which have been worst hit by coronavirus restrictions. – Reuters