Czechs Struggle With Lockdown in World’s Worst Covid-19 Hotspot

The Czech government is seeking to tighten lockdown measures to fight the coronavirus in the world’s fastest-spreading hotspot, calling on allies to help with overflowing hospitals and a stuttering vaccine campaign.

Opposition parties are ratcheting up pressure on Prime Minister Andrej Babis before October elections. They’re tapping into voter frustration over the administration’s inconsistent response to the virus, demanding they be included in the debate and given detailed reasoning for any new restrictions.

With the country of 10.7 million leading the world in new cases per capita and poised to overtake Belgium in death toll rankings, the cabinet is seeking to extend a state of emergency so it can impose new measures that can include limiting internal travel and shutting all but the most necessary shops as early as Friday.

“The health-care system is on the verge of collapse as new infection rates rise across the country,” Health Minister Jan Blatny said in parliament. “We need fierce measures that will turn back the trend in a few weeks.”

While the opposition has declared new restrictions necessary, wrangling over the legal minutia of how they should be imposed has contributed to delaying action from a ruling coalition lacking a majority to push through laws on its own.

The Health Ministry reported 14,457 new cases of Covid-19 over the previous 24 hours on Friday, an increase of 2,758 from a week earlier. Over the past seven days, the country had 7,005 new cases per million people -- the most in the world -- and total deaths of 1,855 per million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and IMF population estimates.

The Czechs are also trailing theirs peers with inoculations, administering only 5.64 doses per 100 people, about one seventh fewer than the EU average and behind the U.K.’s 29 per 100.

While supply is part of the problem, logistics is too. Prague City Hall said it turned to online grocery service Rohlik.cz to deliver vaccines to doctors’ offices so medics didn’t have to collect them from vaccination centers themselves.

From abroad, France has pledged to send 100,000 doses to the Czech Republic and Israel has also provided shots. Germany said it will look into providing hospital beds to Czech patients from overflowing intensive care units.

While the government rebuffed calls from epidemiologists and labor unions to close factories and other industrial facilities, the prime minister urged people to minimize contact for next three weeks.

Babis said new, “really aggressive” variants of Covid-19 are pushing the health-care system to the brink of collapse.

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