Czech Republic to tighten restrictions on public gatherings: health minister

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will tighten restrictions on public activities and gatherings next week as the country struggles with a surge in novel coronavirus infections, Health Minister Roman Prymula said on Friday.

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The country has reported 243.8 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days, the fastest pace in Europe except for in Spain, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The “R” number showing how many people are likely to get infected by one person with the virus has dipped to roughly 1.4 from around 1.6 last week but still indicates exponential growth, Prymula said.

“With the current measures, we can cut (“R”) towards 1.2, but we need it below 1. Therefore there will be measures, which won’t harm the economy, but they will affect gatherings,” he said at a televised press conference.

“We want to pursue a strategy of a faster, shorter-term impact.”

He refused to detail the possible measures, saying they first needed to be discussed with other ministers and affected parties.

The government is focusing on preventing a rise in the number of hospitalisations that would overburden the health system.

Prymula said capacity currently set aside for severely ill COVID-19 patients requiring ventilation was quite full in Prague, but there was a reserve of intensive care beds that could be used for patients with the virus.

The total number of people hospitalised has jumped to 740, he said, from 172 at the start of the month.

Restrictions currently in place include an audience cap of 2,000 seated people for outdoor events, and 1,000 seated at indoor venues. Stand-up events are limited to 50 and 10 people respectively.

Bars and pubs have to close by 10:00 p.m., some universities have shifted their courses online and face masks are mandatory on transport and indoors.

Prymula said he expected the current wave could be brought down to acceptable numbers in about two months but there would be fluctuations until around mid-2021.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan