PRAGUE (Reuters) – The new Czech health minister said on Tuesday tighter restrictions on bars and public events were imminent after his predecessor resigned following a doubling of COVID-19 infections in the country over the past three weeks.
The Czech Republic recorded 837 new coronavirus cases so far on Tuesday, after 1,476 on Monday, health ministry data showed, bringing the overall number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic in March to 51,637.
Health Minister Roman Prymula, in a televised interview, said closing hours for bars would be moved up to 10 p.m. from midnight as of Thursday, when stricter limits on the number of participants at sporting events will also kick in.
He said that limit would be set at 2,000 seated spectators, down from around 10,000. The health ministry planned to issue further details on the new curbs, to be in place for a trial period of 14 days, at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Wednesday, he said.
The Czech Republic acted swiftly at the outset of the pandemic, closing most retail business, borders and schools before many other countries in Europe. Its death toll was 522 as of Tuesday, a small fraction of the tens of thousands of victims in countries such as Spain, Britain and France.
The government lifted most restrictions in the summer, and since then the rate of infection has soared, making it the second fastest in Europe after Spain when comparing new cases per population on a rolling two-week basis.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis, speaking as he ushered Prymula to his new office earlier on Tuesday, said health services were overwhelmed and unable to trace contacts of all infected people within 48 hours in Prague and the central Czech Republic.
He said the government would focus on securing enough hospital capacity for later in the year.
On Monday, Babis chose Prymula, a top epidemiologist, to replace the previous health minister.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)