Czech Republic, Slovakia tighten restrictions as COVID cases soar

Two EU members will impose restrictions on unvaccinated people as Europe faces a rise in coronavirus infections.

Tourists wearing protective face masks walk on Charles Bridge in Prague [File: Martin Divisek/EPA-EFE]

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have tightened restrictions on people who have not had COVID-19 shots in an attempt to prompt more people to get vaccinated amid surging infections.

The measures taken are similar to those in Austria and parts of Germany against the unvaccinated population as Europe faces a rise in infections.

The Czech government approved plans to allow only people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months to enter restaurants, attend certain events and use various other services from next Monday.

Slovakia took a similar step, in what Prime Minister Eduard Heger called a “lockdown for the unvaccinated”.

The Czech Republic recorded a record high 22,585 cases on Wednesday and 73 deaths [File: Petr David Josek/AFP]

The Czech Republic, a country of 10.7 million, reported a record high 22,585 cases on Wednesday and 73 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Overall, it has recorded more than 1.93 million cases and more than 31,000 fatalities.

Both governments will also require testing for COVID-19 at workplaces.

“The main goal of these measures is motivation for vaccinations,” Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech said.

Czech President Andrej Babis warned that the country was facing a “serious” situation as cases surge.

“I am glad that after many negotiations in the last two days, there has been an agreement between experts and the government,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that they were inspired to announce the restrictions based on the Bavaria state in Germany.

The Czech vaccination rate is below the European Union average, with some 58 percent of people inoculated, according to Our World in Data.

Health system under pressure

The Slovak prime minister said some of the country’s hospitals have been overwhelmed already.

Slovakia has the EU’s third-lowest vaccination rate, with 45 percent of the population fully inoculated, and many Slovak hospitals have filled up, especially in the east.

Bianka Krejciova, a spokesperson for Svet Zdravia, which runs 13 hospitals, said the situation in hospitals in eastern Slovakia was worse than in the previous wave of infections.

Slovakia, with a population of 5.5 million, reported 8,342 new virus cases on Tuesday, surpassing the previous record of 7,244 set on Friday.

Both countries have reduced non-urgent care, and the Czech army has sent personnel to help, the AFP news agency reported.

About 10,000 protesters opposed the planned restrictions in the Czech capital Prague on Wednesday and some vaccination centres have faced verbal attacks.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies