Czech crematoriums seek help as COVID-19-related deaths soar

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PRAGUE (Reuters) – Some Czech crematoriums are near or at capacity due to a spike in coronavirus deaths, and they are looking for alternative cremation sites, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries with 12,436 coronavirus deaths, has been struggling with another surge of the illness, with new records in daily cases and rising hospital admissions pointing to more victims in coming weeks.

The country’s 12.7 deaths per million using the latest seven-day average was the world’s highest rate, according to the website supported by Oxford University.

Hamacek said the situation was hardest in the eastern region of Moravia-Silesia, while in other regions facilities were almost operating at full capacity. The deceased would have to be moved between regions, he said.

“Right now, one such transport of around 50 bodies needs to be done, and we will act similarly in other cases,” he said at a televised press conference. “We will have to find a complex solution for the whole country.”

The government had relaxed restrictive measures ahead of Christmas and took time to tighten them again amid public discontent, despite signs of resurgent infections. 

It raised restrictions to the highest level again from Dec. 27, closing most shops, imposing a 9 pm curfew and barring public assembly of more than two people.

In the past week, 127 people with COVID-19 died each day on average in the country of 10.7 million people, and those numbers are likely to be revised up.

In a regular year, around 300 people die each day from all causes, but that number spiked to as many as 600 in the worst two weeks at the turn of October and November 2020. The overall data is reported with a six-week lag.

The funeral services association spokeswoman Hanka Svechotova said numbers were now “reaching a somewhat critical level”.

The situation appeared uneven across the country, with the capital Prague’s funeral service telling Reuters it was operating as normal.

The crematorium in the eastern city of Ostrava as well as the hospital in the nearby city of Olomouc, however, have placed freezer trucks outside to store bodies.

New daily cases may peak at around 19,000 in the coming week, up from Tuesday’s record of 17,278, the country’s chief health statistician said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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