PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday people’s movement needed to be “radically” limited over at least the next three weeks as his government prepared more restrictions to slow one of the world’s fastest spreads of COVID-19 infections.
Babis’ minority government has sought to shore up support from opposition parties to win an extension of state-of-emergency powers – needed to curb mobility – in a parliamentary vote on Friday.
If parliament rejected the extension of emergency powers into March, which it did already once in a previous vote, Babis said other solutions would need to be found.
Babis has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic from the opposition.
Lawmakers rejected extending a state of emergency two weeks ago when the Communist party, which props up Babis’s government, withdrew support after demands to reopen schools went unmet.
The government sidestepped lawmakers by calling a new state of emergency at regional governments’ request but still needs lawmakers’ approval to extend it beyond February.
The Communist party has not signalled how it would vote this time. Babis may gain support given the worsening situation.
On Wednesday, Babis said “hellish days” were ahead and hospitals faced “catastrophe” without action.
Over the past week, the country has had the highest per capita infection rate in the world and second highest death rate, according to the Our World in Data website. Its infection rate in the last two weeks is nine times higher than Germany.
** For interactive graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3bFHw2R
Graphic: Czech Republic’s 14-day infection rate highest in Europe Czech Republic’s 14-day infection rate highest in Europe: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CZECH/xklvyojoavg/chart.png
The death toll has soared to 19,835, up from 700 at the start of October, in the country of 10.7 million.
New measures could include limits on travel around the country.
Non-essential shops and restaurants have been almost continuously closed since October. Schools are shut, except for pre-schoolers and first- and second-graders although the government plans to send them into home schooling again.
Ministers have said curbs for industry were “not in play”.
The British variant of the virus has accelerated the spread this month and strained hospitals as the number of patients in serious condition hits records.
The worsening situation has rattled markets, with the crown currency losing over 1% from Wednesday’s open, its biggest 2-day fall since October.
Babis has also seen his popularity take a hit amid the pandemic and political infighting and the people’s patience with restrictions wearing thin while the country’s vaccine rollout is trailing the European Union average. On Thursday, Babis said France had promised to lend 100,000 Pfizer vaccines.
Graphic: Czech Republic faces renewed surge in COVID-19 cases Czech Republic faces renewed surge in COVID-19 cases: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CZECH/azgvoeyeyvd/chart.png
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Robert Muller; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell)