PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic will close non-essential shops, services and ski lifts and enforce a stricter curfew from Sunday as it seeks to curb another rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations, Health Minister Jan Blatny said on Wednesday.
The government approved a move to its highest risk level, Blatny said, triggering restrictions that will largely lock down the country of 10.7 million during the holiday season and cancel New Year’s Eve celebrations.
COVID-19 infections have risen in December, with the daily case tally reaching above 10,000 on Tuesday for the first time since Nov. 6.
At the current rate, the Health Ministry said, hospitalisations could approach a total of 7,000 by the end of the year – from the current level of 4,782 – again nearing a peak above 8,000 hit in November when the country had one of the highest infection and death rates in Europe.
Deaths from the illness have risen 15-fold since the beginning of October, to a total 10,664.
The new round of tightening comes after the government loosened restrictions at the beginning of the month when cases had largely come down.
The country re-closed bars and restaurants last week, so new restrictions will hit retail outlets and services like hairdressers. Shops selling essential goods will stay open, although supermarkets will only be allowed to sell essentials. Other items can be ordered online.
A nighttime curfew will start at 9 p.m, instead of 11 p.m., and public gatherings will be limited to two people outside families. Religious services will be allowed for up to 10% of seat capacity. Ski lifts will close.
In schools, only first- and second-graders will return to classrooms after the Christmas break while other pupils will shift to distance learning.
Blatny said the government would meet in January to review measures, which are set to last until Jan. 10.
(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; editing by John Stonestreet, Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)