* Surge in COVID-19 cases nears 100,000 in October alone
* Czechs have worst infection rate in Europe
* Deaths have doubled in October, hospitals seeing strain
* Government has tightened measures, aiming to avoid lockdown
PRAGUE, Oct 18 (Reuters) - The Czech Republic, which has the highest coronavirus infection rate in Europe, will wait at least two weeks before deciding whether to order a full lockdown to stem its epidemic, Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlicek said on Sunday.
In the past week, bars and restaurants have been ordered to close except for takeout orders, and schools have been shifted to distance learning. Sport and fitness clubs, theatres and cinemas had already been shut, but shops have remained open.
On Saturday, the Czech Republic reported 8,713 new coronavirus cases, its largest daily total at a weekend. And the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said it had registered 828 cases per 100,000 population in the last two weeks, more than 10 times the rate in neighbouring Germany.
Since Czech schools reopened in September, the cumulative number of cases has risen almost seven times.
“We will not decide this week about a lockdown,” Havlicek said on Czech Television. “We have clearly said we will wait (until Nov. 2) for results.”
Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on CNN Prima’s Sunday show the combination of new measures should help cut the R number, which measures the average spread from one infected person, by 30-40%. A number above 1.0 indicates an exponential increase, and the current rate is estimated at around 1.4.
The growth in cases, with almost 100,000 since the start of October in a country of 10.7 million, and 1,352 deaths from COVID-19, is forcing authorities to make plans for field hospitals and foreign help.
Around 500 sports fans, including militant soccer supporters’ groups known as ultras, protested in Prague on Sunday against the coronavirus restrictions, defying a ban on gatherings. (Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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