The Czech government plans to declare a state of emergency from Monday, allowing it to put stricter limits on public gatherings and shut schools to stop the spread of the new coronavirus from overwhelming the health system.
The country of 10.7 million reported 1,965 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the fourth straight day below 2,000 after a recent surge, Health Ministry data showed on Wednesday.
The country has seen Europe’s second largest jump in cases of the novel coronavirus, behind Spain.
The state of emergency itself does not mean any draconic steps but gives the government more power to limit activities including businesses.
“The main reason is to be able to take measures that will help arrest the rocketing increase that was here and that threatens the capacity of our health facilities,” Health Minister Roman Prymula told parliament.
The R number, showing how many people are likely to get infected by one person, has dropped to around 1.2, from about 1.6 earlier this month.
Prymula said he was proposing public events would be limited to 20 people outside and 10 inside but the government would not close restaurants, bars or shops, nor limit movement like it did in the spring. Theatres would stay open, without musical performances.
Secondary schools would be closed as of Monday, in additional to universities that have mostly gone online. Medical students may be called to help in hospitals.
The measures should be in place for two weeks.
The cabinet will meet on Wednesday afternoon to discus the state of emergency and the measures.
Prymula said there were 976 people in hospitals with COVID-19, up from 172 a month ago.
He said there were enough hospital beds at the moment but further increases required reorganisation of care and postponing non-urgent procedures. Infections among medical staff also affected capacity, he said.
The number of doctors currently infected has jumped sixfold this month to 394 and risen sevenfold among nurses, according to the Medical Chamber.
The Czech Republic was fast in March to shut shops, schools and restaurants, keeping cases and deaths down. But it eased restrictions in the summer in response to popular demand.
As of Wednesday, there were 636 COVID-19 deaths, up 50% just in September. Of a total 67,843 cases, 34,448 remain active.