The Czech Republic is facing a medical ‘collapse’ with the military building field hospitals as the country suffers from the highest contamination rate in Europe.
After escaping the first wave relatively lightly, the Eastern European country has been battered in recent weeks by a resurgence that has infected more than 4,000 hospital staff and forced the closure of schools, bars and restaurants.
Hospitals are treating six times as many virus patients as during the first wave, other surgeries are being canceled and plans are being made to export patients to Germany, Hungary or Poland.
“We are in danger of collapsing here,” Interior Minister Jan Hamacek told Czech media, adding that “there will be cadaveric freezers on the streets” if the outbreak is not contained.
Czech health officials today announced a new record of 9,544 cases in 24 hours, bringing the total to 139,290, while 66 more deaths brought 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, Great Britain and Spain.
The daily number of cases in the Czech Republic hit a record 9,544 today, after the country’s relative success gave way in the spring to a massive second wave in the fall
The Czech Republic registered 66 new deaths today, and unlike 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 like the Netherlands (in red), France (in blue) and Spain (in orange) – and rising numbers are putting pressure on hospitals in the Eastern European nation
The deaths in the Czech Republic (in purple) are also piling up faster than in the major economies of Western Europe, with 66 new fatalities announced today
In March, the Czech government quickly closed borders, schools and businesses and suppressed the epidemic with only thousands of infections.
The Czech authorities announced a ban on foreign visitors as early as March 13, when the country had only 120 cases and no deaths. Britain didn’t start imposing quarantines until the first wave had subsided.
The Czech government was also a pioneer in ordering masks, which became mandatory outdoors on March 18. Western European governments, on the other hand, were slower to adopt masks.
However, the Czech government also went further than most in relaxing the unpopular restrictions during the summer and was hesitant to bring them back even as cases started to climb.
This has led to a massive increase in the number of cases and has put unprecedented pressure on hospitals, unlike in Western Europe where hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise, but lower than at the height of the pandemic.
According to Czech media, Prime Minister Andrej Babis has negotiated hospital beds in Germany, Hungary and Poland if the Czech system cannot handle it.
“There are dozens of beds,” Interior Minister Hamacek told an outlet, as all three neighbors grapple with their own resurgence.
He added that there is 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 admitted patients from countries such as Italy and the Netherlands at the height of the pandemic in the spring.
Hamacek said today that the Czech army would begin construction of an area for 500 hospital beds at a fun fair in Prague from Saturday.
Prime Minister Babis told reporters it was necessary to build additional capacity.
‘We don’t have time, the prospects are not good. These numbers are catastrophic, ”said Babis.
The number of hospital admissions rose 161 percent in October to 2,678, with 518 patients in intensive care. The number of deaths is up 75 percent this month.
Of the 4,011 intensive care beds in the country, 958 were free as of Monday, a national registry found, with 207 designated for Covid-19 patients.
Government experts forecast the number of hospital admissions at the end of October was 4,500-10,750.
While the health system is well equipped with beds, oxygen and ventilators, staff absenteeism is on the rise with more than 4,000 hospital workers infected.
The government, criticized by medical professionals for acting slowly, has said thousands of medical students would be called upon to help.
Two medical personnel in protective suits and full-body face shields are treating a coronavirus patient in intensive care at Slany Hospital in the Czech Republic this week
Two hospital workers put on protective clothing as they prepare for an intensive care unit at Thomayer hospital in Prague, with the Czech Republic seeing the highest infection rate in Europe
“We can physically add beds, I expect we would also get equipment, but there is nowhere to find staff,” says Martin Zatloukal, head of intensive care at a hospital south of Prague.
“There will have to be a reduction in care, if only because of the number of people infected … We all hope this will not follow the path of a catastrophic scenario.”
At another 314-bed hospital in Slany, near Prague, construction workers rushed this week to convert a general unit for Covid-19 patients, increasing the number of special beds from the current 12 to 29.
The hospital’s intensive care unit, which has five beds, is also fully designated for COVID.
“We are preparing for an increase in the number of patients,” said Slany hospital director Stepan Votocek.
‘I’m concerned about staff, especially nurses. It’s not just about numbers, but also about physical and psychological stress, ”he said.
“If this takes weeks and months, I am very concerned if they will just make it.”
The Czech Republic has the highest infection rates in Europe, with similar rates in the worst affected regions of Great Britain, France and Spain
In the past week alone, new infections are up 44,000, and high positivity rates on testing suggest many other cases are being overlooked.
On Monday, the Czech government announced the closure of bars and restaurants until at least November 3 in the country of 10.7 million people.
Alcohol has also been banned in public places, while schools have switched back to distance learning and meetings are limited to six people.
“We have to take measures that will reverse the trend within two or three weeks, otherwise we will run out of hospital capacity,” said Health Minister Roman Prymula.
As of Monday, the government has also suspended sporting events and closed cinemas, theaters, 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 will no longer be accessible after 9pm.
Emmanuel Macron said the curfew was aimed at “parties, socializing times where there are 50 or 60 people, festive evenings” that had spread the virus.
The curfew applies to the Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Grenoble, Montpellier, Rouen, Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Lille regions, with a total population of approximately 20 million.
Meanwhile, Germany saw a record high of 6,638 new cases today, while the number of deaths has also increased in the past five days with 100 new fatalities.
“There can be no doubt now that this is the beginning of a very big second wave,” Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told public broadcaster ARD.