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Czech Republic seals off some towns, restricts movement to fight coronavirus

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic sealed off several towns on Monday to combat the new coronavirus outbreak and banned people from moving around except for work, shopping and some other limited activities until March 24.

FILE PHOTO - A man wearing protective suit walks across the Old Town Square, as the Czech government shut most shops and restaurants for 10 days as part of measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Prague, Czech Republic, March 14, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Prime Minister Andrej Babis urged people to work from home or take holidays if possible. Public transport would remain running, he added.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said the aim of the measures - similar to those in other nations where the outbreak has hit harder - was to slow the spread of the virus.

“Nobody is banning anyone from going for a walk ... but having a beer with 20 people around you is irresponsible and dangerous.”

The country of 10.7 million has confirmed 298 cases of the virus as of Sunday night, a jump of 109 in a day, but no deaths.

Authorities sealed off several towns in the east of the country on Monday, affecting around 24,000 people living in the area which has reported 25 cases of coronavirus so far.

The government has been criticised by doctors and hospitals who have reported shortages of protective masks and respirators.

The health minister said on Saturday the country lacked about a million respirators and the government was trying to secure supplies.

On Sunday, the government said millions of respirators and test kits would come from China in the coming days.

People with symptoms have complained of being turned down when requesting tests. The government has said it was accelerating testing, reporting 1,003 tests on Sunday to bring the total to 5,068.

The new restrictions come a day after the government closed most shops and restaurants for at least 10 days.

Other measures announced in recent days included a ban on nearly all international travel from March 16, closing schools and prohibiting public events such as sports and concerts.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Michael Kahn and Robert Muller; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Nick Macfie