By Jan Lopatka
PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia will shut most of its schools and require the population to stay home apart from work, essential shopping and nature trips, in a partial lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Thursday.
After getting through the first wave of the global pandemic with one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, Slovakia is facing a surge of new cases, forcing it to bring back restrictions.
"This is the last way to avoid a total lockdown that many other countries have gone for," Matovic told reporters. "This wave that has arrived is 100 times bigger than the first one."
Most schools will close for a month from Monday, Matovic said. Even tougher lockdown rules will apply in the four most severely affected districts.
The new measures add to existing restrictions that ban indoor dining at restaurants and close public venues such as pools, fitness clubs and theatres.
Matovic also confirmed plans to proceed with free nationwide testing for the country's 5.5 million people.
Two testing drives will be carried out from Oct. 30-Nov. 1 and again from Nov. 6-8. Authorities are incentivising testing by giving those with negative results exemptions of some lockdown restrictions.
After the first week of the new measures, which begin on Saturday, those who cannot produce a negative result will be subject to an even stricter lockdown while those who test negative will still be allowed the same limited movement as in week one.
The government has bought 13 million so-called antigen tests, which are faster than standard PCR tests but less accurate.
Slovakia reported 1,728 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a day after a one-day record of 2,202 infections, while the number of patients in hospitals has grown to 731 from 424 a week ago.
Its infection rate over the last two weeks is the ninth highest in Europe, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control data.
During the spike this month, total deaths more than doubled to 115, including a record 17 on Wednesday alone.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Chris Reese and Sam Holmes)