Czech COVID-19 cases soar to highest since April, prompting new measures

A man receives a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during a trial run of the national vaccination centre located inside the O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, April 9, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The Czech government will force restaurants to check patrons' COVID-19 status, among other measures it decided on Wednesday, to stem a spike in infections that is the highest since April.

The Czech Republic, like other countries in central and eastern Europe where vaccination rates are below the European Union average, is looking to keep a new wave of coronavirus cases well below peaks seen earlier in 2021.

Two-thirds of adults in the country of 10.7 million are fully vaccinated, below an EU average of 74%, and health and government officials have said the vast majority of new cases involve the unvaccinated.

On Tuesday, daily cases reached 3,246, more than double the number a week ago.

The government, which lost an election this month and is set to hand power to a coalition of opposition parties in the coming weeks, has sought to boost the vaccination rate as the best way to keep a handle on the situation and avoid tough measures taken in the past 18 months.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said restrictions could not wait for a new government.

His government on Wednesday said it would require restaurants and clubs to check COVID certificates -- which showa person's vaccination or testing status -- and mandate masks at all indoor events and in workplaces.

It will also end free testing for people over 18 as it aims to encourage more people to get the vaccine, and shorten the validity period of test results, used for facilitating visits to public events and restaurants.

Hospitalisations had risen to 620 as of Tuesday, from 249 at the start of October, with 102 people in intensive care, health ministry data showed.

Cases and hospitalisations are still well below peak levels during the pandemic. In February, cases jumped above 10,000 a day and the number of people in hospital soared to more than 9,500 in March.

A renewed rise in COVID-19 cases has been seen around central Europe, with Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million where just around half of adults are vaccinated, reporting more than 3,000 cases in a single day for the first time since March. read more

In Romania, hospitals are feeling the strain of an increase in cases, while Poland's health minister said on Wednesday the country was seeing an "explosion" of cases but added there was no discussion of imposing another lockdown. read more

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Bernadette Baum

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