Czechs tighten measures against COVID-19 with curfew, retail curbs

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Slany Hospital
FILE PHOTO: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Slany Hospital

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government ordered a 9 p.m. curfew and will limit retail sales on Sundays as part of tighter measures to curb the spread of novel coronavirus infections, ministers said on Monday.

The government has stepped up restrictions three times in the past two weeks in what is Europe's highest per capita infection rate and a death toll that has doubled to 2,337 since Oct. 13.

The surge in cases, which have averaged over 12,000 a day over the past week in the country of 10.7 million, is bound to put even more strain on hospitals.

But like others in Europe, officials have sought to avoid the harshest lockdown measures and want to keep industry running so as not to repeat a sharp economic contraction that occurred in the spring when the pandemic started.

Health Minister Roman Prymula said already announced measures - closing bars, restaurants, most retail and schools - had failed to bring the infection rate down.

"So far, the R number has a value which is not favourable, we can still observe growth which is bigger than 1 and we are getting closer to levels which threaten the capacity of the Czech healthcare system," Prymula said.

Health officials have estimated the R number, measuring how many people get infected on average from each new case, stood at 1.36, showing exponential growth.

The government's curfew will be in place Oct. 28-Nov. 3 and will last until 5 a.m. each day. Exemptions include travel for work or family visits.

Retail shops still running under current restrictions must also close by 8 p.m. and on Sundays, with exceptions for gas stations, pharmacies or shops at train stations and other travel points.

A planned return of students to classrooms, set for early November, is still undecided, ministers said.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)