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Short-lived respite for Czechs as government plans fresh COVID restrictions

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government will consider reimposing tougher restrictions on public life next week to slow down coronavirus infections after just over a week of relaxed rules, Health Minister Jan Blatny said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Customers queue in front of a reopened shop during the coronavirus outbreak in Prague, Czech Republic, December 3, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo

It will also launch free, voluntary testing for all citizens using rapid-result antigen tests on Dec. 18, which Blatny said could make family visits over Christmas safer.

The country of 10.7 million suffered one of Europe’s worst second waves of COVID-19 in October and November, with over 8,000 hospitalised at the peak stretching the health system, and 9,341 deaths since the pandemic started early this year.

Daily recorded infections dropped by two-thirds from November peaks near 16,000, but the past few days have brought a fresh rise to around 6,000. That is a higher per capita rate than in neighbouring Germany, which has maintained tighter restrictions in place and is considering lockdowns.

(For an interactive graphic: here)

Blatny said the rise occurred before the full effect of the Dec. 3 reopening of shops, restaurants and other services was evident.

He said he would ask the government to move the country up to risk level 4 on the 5-grade scale from the middle of next week, meaning the introduction of a curfew from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m., closing indoor sports grounds, restaurants, bars and hotels, limiting gatherings to six people, and other measures.

“Clearly there has been a rise in cases, and it is up to us if it will be slow or steep,” Blatny told a news conference, urging people to respect social distancing rules.

The cabinet will discuss the changes on Monday.

Limitations on public life have run into growing impatience among businesses and a public weary over frequent changes of rules and mounting losses in the most exposed service sectors.

(For an interactive graphic: here

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mark Heinrich