PRAGUE (Reuters) - An unused military field hospital in Prague will be packed up due to staff shortages even as high numbers of COVID-19 patients stretch Czech health-care facilities to the limits, officials said on Friday.
The coronavirus pandemic pushed hospitals in the Czech Republic to the brink of capacity in November and again earlier this month. The central European nation of 10.7 million people is suffering one of the world's highest infection rates, with more than 16,000 COVID-related deaths recorded.
The army erected the field hospital on the outskirts of the capital Prague in October on the site of an exhibition ground and put the facility on standby, equipped to care for as many as 500 COVID-19 patients.
But because of a death of available staff, "we are unable to roll out the hospital in a way that makes sense," Deputy Health Minister Vladimir Cerny told a news conference. "If we (do) have staff, it seems to be more purposeful to reinforce standard hospitals than to activate the field hospital."
There were 5,856 COVID-19 patients in Czech hospitals as of Thursday, including 970 in intensive care - about 20% below peaks in mid-January.
But six of the country's 14 regions reported zero or single-digit numbers of available intensive care beds. Officials have used ambulances and helicopters to move patients to less crowded hospitals while suspending non-urgent care for weeks.
With around 8,000 new infections reported every day of late, the government fears any new spike in cases from an expected spread of a more infectious British variant of the virus could overload hospital capacity.
Hospitals have also reported declining but still high numbers of infected staff - 4,047 nationwide as of Friday - and have shut down wards and repurposed others specially for COVID patients, running some with the help of soldiers and volunteers.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Kahn and Mark Heinrich)