Czech government approves new state of emergency

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PRAGUE, Feb 14 (Reuters) – The Czech government reached a last-minute deal with regional governors on Sunday to call a new state of emergency for 14 days and avert a chaotic end to coronavirus lockdown measures.

Without extraordinary powers, Prime Minister Andrej Babis’ minority government would be unable to keep nationwide limits such as curfews or bans on public gatherings, or the closure of shops and services.

Lawmakers had last week rejected extending the government’s state of emergency beyond Sunday, in a blow to efforts to fight one of Europe’s highest COVID-19 infection rates and relieve fast-filling hospitals.

But after weekend talks, the country’s 14 regions on Sunday called on the government to declare a new state of emergency.

Czech TV, citing Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamacek, reported that the government had approved the new state of emergency, which would be effective from midnight.

The government, which has faced criticism from opposition parties for its handling of the pandemic, is due to hold a news conference later.

Other measures like restaurant and hotel closures could fall under public health legislation.

The country has been in various lockdown levels since October. The regional governors, though, want a rethink of some measures, like retail closures, and a plan to gradually return children to school from March.

The government had been reluctant to bypass lawmakers, who must approve any state of emergency extension after 30 days, unless regions requested it. (Reporting by Jason Hovet Editing by Gareth Jones)

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