Czech Republic faces medical ‘collapse’ in Covid second wave

The Czech Republic is facing a medical ‘collapse’ with the army rigging up field hospitals as the country suffers the worst infection rate in Europe. 

After escaping the first wave relatively lightly, the Eastern European country has been battered by a resurgence in recent weeks which has infected more than 4,000 hospital workers and forced the closure of schools, bars and restaurants. 

Hospitals are treating six times as many virus patients as during the first wave, with other surgeries being cancelled and plans being drawn up for patients to be exported to Germany, Hungary or Poland.  

‘We are in danger of collapsing here,’ interior minister Jan Hamacek told Czech media, adding that ‘there will be corpse freezers in the streets’ if the outbreak is not contained.  

Czech health officials today announced a new record of 9,544 cases in 24 hours, taking the total to 139,290, while 66 more deaths took the total to 1,172.  

The country’s infection rate of 586 cases per 100,000 people in a week is the highest on the continent ahead of Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Britain and Spain. 

Daily cases in the Czech Republic reached a record 9,544 today after the country’s relative success in the spring gave way to a massive second wave in the autumn 

The Czech Republic recorded 66 new deaths today, and unlike in most of Western Europe the daily death rate is higher than during the first wave of the pandemic

The Czech Republic recorded 66 new deaths today, and unlike in most of Western Europe the daily death rate is higher than during the first wave of the pandemic 

The Czech Republic, in purple, has the highest infection rate in Europe - ahead of hard-hit countries such as the Netherlands (in red), France (in blue) and Spain (in orange)  - and the rising numbers  are putting pressure on hospitals in the Eastern European nation

The Czech Republic, in purple, has the highest infection rate in Europe – ahead of hard-hit countries such as the Netherlands (in red), France (in blue) and Spain (in orange)  – and the rising numbers  are putting pressure on hospitals in the Eastern European nation 

The Czech Republic's deaths (in purple) are also piling up more quickly than in the major economies of Western Europe, with 66 new fatalities announced today

The Czech Republic’s deaths (in purple) are also piling up more quickly than in the major economies of Western Europe, with 66 new fatalities announced today

In March, the Czech government was fast to close borders, schools and businesses, suppressing the epidemic with only thousands of infections. 

Czech authorities announced a ban on foreign visitors as early as March 13, when the country had only 120 cases and no deaths. Britain did not start imposing quarantines until the first wave had subsided. 

The Czech government was also a pioneer in ordering the use of masks, which became compulsory outside the home on March 18. By contrast, Western European governments were slower to adopt masks.  

However, the Czech government also went further than most in relaxing the unpopular restrictions over the summer and was reluctant to bring them back even as cases started climbing. 

That has led to a massive surge in cases and placed unprecedented pressure on hospitals, unlike in Western Europe where hospitalisations and deaths, although rising, are lower than at the height of the pandemic.  

According to Czech media, prime minister Andrej Babis has been negotiating hospital beds in Germany, Hungary and Poland if the Czech system cannot cope. 

‘There is talk of dozens of beds,’ interior minister Hamacek told one outlet, even as all three neighbours grapple with resurgences of their own.  

He added that there was a ‘real danger’ of the situation deteriorating to become like Italy or New York in the most dire period of the pandemic earlier this year. 

Germany previously took in patients from countries including Italy and the Netherlands at the height of the pandemic in the spring. 

Hamacek said today that the Czech army would start building an area for 500 hospital beds at a fairground in Prague from Saturday.

Prime minister Babis told reporters it was necessary to start building extra capacity. 

‘We don’t have time, the outlook is not good. These numbers are catastrophic,’ Babis said. 

The number of hospitalisations has risen 161 per cent in October to 2,678, with 518 patients in intensive care. Deaths have climbed by 75 per cent this month. 

Of the country’s 4,011 intensive care beds 958 were free as of Monday, a national register showed, with 207 designated for Covid-19 patients. 

Projections by government experts have put the number of hospitalised at 4,500-10,750 by the end of October. 

While the health system is well equipped with beds, oxygen and ventilators, staff absences are adding up with more than 4,000 hospital workers infected. 

The government, criticised by medical professionals for acting slowly, has said thousands of medical students would be called up to help. 

Two medical workers wearing full-body protective suits and face shields treat a coronavirus patient at the Slany Hospital's intensive care unit in the Czech Republic this week

Two medical workers wearing full-body protective suits and face shields treat a coronavirus patient at the Slany Hospital’s intensive care unit in the Czech Republic this week 

Two hospital workers put on protective gear as they prepare to enter an intensive care ward at Prague's Thomayer hospital, with the Czech Republic seeing Europe's worst infection rate

Two hospital workers put on protective gear as they prepare to enter an intensive care ward at Prague’s Thomayer hospital, with the Czech Republic seeing Europe’s worst infection rate  

‘We can physically add beds, I expect we would get equipment as well, but there is nowhere to find personnel,’ said Martin Zatloukal, head of intensive care at one hospital south of Prague.  

‘There will have to be reduction in care, just due to the numbers of infected… We are all hoping this will not take the path of a catastrophic scenario.’

At another 314-bed hospital in Slany, near Prague, construction workers were hurrying this week to convert a general ward for Covid-19 patients, increasing the number of special beds to 29 from the current 12.

The hospital’s intensive care ward, which has five beds, has also been fully designated for COVID.

‘We are getting ready for a surge in patient numbers,’ Slany hospital director Stepan Votocek said. 

‘I am worried about personnel, mainly nurses. It is not just about numbers but about physical and psychological stress,’ he said. 

‘If this takes weeks and months, I have a great worry if they will simply make it.’  

The Czech Republic has the highest infection rates in Europe, with comparable figures in the worst-hit regions of Britain, France and Spain

The Czech Republic has the highest infection rates in Europe, with comparable figures in the worst-hit regions of Britain, France and Spain 

New infections have risen by 44,000 in the last week alone, and high positivity rates from testing suggest that many other cases are being missed.   

On Monday, the Czech government announced the closure of bars and restaurants until at least November 3 in the country of 10.7million people.  

Alcohol has also been banned in public places, while schools have switched back to distance learning and gatherings have been limited to six people.   

‘We need to take measures that will reverse the trend within two or three weeks, otherwise we’ll run out of hospital capacity,’ said health minister Roman Prymula.   

From Monday the government has also suspended sports events and closed cinemas, theatres, museums and galleries.

Along with the Czech Republic, regional governments in Russia and Northern Ireland have also closed schools as they grapple with second waves of the disease. 

France yesterday announced a curfew for major cities including Paris, meaning bars, restaurants and parties are out of bounds after 9pm. 

Emmanuel Macron said the curfews were aimed at ‘parties, moments of conviviality where there are 50 or 60 people, festive evenings’ which had spread the virus. 

The curfew applies to the Paris region, Marseille, Toulouse, Grenoble, Montpellier, Rouen, Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Lille, with a combined population of about 20million.

Meanwhile Germany saw an all-time high of 6,638 new cases today while deaths have also spiked with 100 new fatalities in the last five days. 

‘There can be no question anymore now that this is the start of a very big second wave,’ Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun told public broadcaster ARD. 

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