Czech government seeks tougher COVID measures to tame virus surge

PRAGUE, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The Czech government will meet on Thursday to decide on tougher lockdown restrictions to rein in one of the world's fastest spreads of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday hospitals faced "catastrophe" if no action is taken. read more

His minority government met late into the evening on Wednesday and will reconvene on Thursday evening after talks with opposition parties to shore up support.

The central European country of 10.7 million has struggled with a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases, straining hospitals as the number of patients in serious condition hits records.

The crown currency suffered its biggest fall since December on Wednesday amid worries about the pandemic.

The country has been in varying levels of lockdown since October. Non-essential shops and restaurants have been almost continuously closed since then.

But industry has remained running, limiting the economic hit unlike after the initial outbreak a year ago.

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek told financial daily Hospodarske Noviny factory curbs were "not on the table".

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on Twitter after Wednesday's meeting any tightening would be linked to extending the government's state of emergency powers into March, which parliament has rejected once already. Hamacek said consultation with the opposition was needed.

The opposition has criticised the government's handling of the pandemic. The situation has been hurt by growing public fatigue with restrictions and slow vaccine rollouts. The British variant of the virus has also accelerated the spread.

Over the past week, the country has had the highest per capita infection rate in the world and second highest death rate, according to the Our World in Data website.

The total case tally of 1.198 million infections since last March and 19,835 deaths - rising from 700 at the start of October - are also among the highest in the world on a per capita basis.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Nick Macfie

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