Czech government closes bars, schools in what PM calls 'one shot' to curb COVID-19 surge

A woman wearing a face mask walks across the medieval Charles Bridge, as the Czech government shut sports, culture and social venues for two weeks to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Prague, Czech Republic, October 12, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech government ordered bars, restaurants and clubs closed from Wednesday and shifted schools to distance learning as it puts new measures in place to curb the fast spread of novel coronavirus cases.

The Czech Republic is experiencing the strongest surge in Europe when adjusted for population as the number of infections detected since the outbreak began has soared to nearly 120,000, from around 25,000 at the beginning of September.

Hospitals are starting to feel that strain as the number of patients have doubled since the start of October to over 2,000.

The government has been seeking to avoid repeating the strict lockdowns imposed in the spring, which sent the economy into a record contraction. The summer saw a relaxation of restrictions after the country came through the first wave of the pandemic with far fewer cases than western neighbours.

“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,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said told a news conference.

Babis said the priority was for hospitals to be able to manage the sharp increase in infected patients.

From Wednesday, public gatherings would be limited to six people, alcohol consumption in public spaces would be banned and masks would be required at public transport stops. Takeaway orders will still be available until 8 p.m.

Schools, expect for pre-schools, would move to online lessons until Nov. 1 – a measure that companies and especially hospitals have worried would affect staffing. This extends distance learning that had already been in place for secondary schools.

The measures will be in place until the start of November, and the government said that while schools would definitely reopen on Nov. 2, other measures would be relaxed according to the epidemiological situation. The government had already tightened curbs to limit restaurant openings and widen the use of masks.

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