Czech government drops shop re-opening plan amid virus surge

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The Czech government on Friday dropped plans to possibly open non-essential retail shops from next week as a surge in coronavirus cases continued to put pressure on strained hospitals.

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek announced the decision on Twitter.

“The pandemic situation is not good, the UK variant is still spreading. That’s why we decided not to open closed shops for now,” Havlicek said, adding the government will debate shop openings again next week.

The country of 10.7 million has Europe’s highest infection rate currently, reporting 968 new cases per 100,000 people on a two-week basis, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The minority government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis has faced criticism from the opposition and citizens groups for chaotic management and unpredictability in the pandemic, but it is also facing growing demands to ease restrictions.

The government had considered opening shops from Monday. It is planning to partly open schools to get many children back to classrooms in March.

Hospitals, though, have seen capacity stressed in past weeks.

As of Friday morning, 14% of intensive care and high dependence beds were available across the country, including 149 places for COVID patients.

The number of COVID patients hospitalised in serious condition has reached 1,258, above peaks seen in November.

Health Minister Jan Blatny said on Wednesday that Czech hospitals may be overwhelmed with coronavirus patients in two or three weeks, issuing the starkest warning yet.

Main Photo: A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a sample from woman for testing for coronavirus antibodies at drive-in coronavirus testing station in Prague, Czech Republic. EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK

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