PRAGUE, March 1 (Reuters) – The Czech Republic tightened lockdown measures on Monday, beefing up police presence to restrict movement throughout the country as the government battles the world’s worst surge in COVID-19 infections.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced the stricter measures last week, saying hospitals were nearing collapse as the number of patients in serious condition jumped to records.
Babis has faced criticism the measures do not go far enough as factories remain open. He is balancing this with public frustration over lockdowns that have had non-essential shops, restaurants and entertainment largely shut since October.
“People did not want to keep the rules before today and that is why COVID is here. Maybe this will help,” Pavel Novotny, a train conductor, said outside a largely empty station in Prague.
The country of 10.7 million has the highest per capita infection rate in the world over the last week, according to the Our World in Data website, 11 times higher than Germany.
New restrictions limiting people’s travels to their home towns and districts – except for trips to work or other exemptions – started on Monday, exactly one year from when the first coronavirus infection was detected in the country.
Around 26,000 police officers and 3,800 soldiers were deployed to enforce the three-week order.
Babis and some ministers have rejected calls to lock down industry. Companies will instead need to test workers.
“If the whole industry shuts down, then exporting companies would lose contracts and eventually could go bankrupt and there will be a lot of unemployed people,” Babis told CNN Prima News on Sunday.
The country enacted tight measures a year go when the pandemic started. The biggest manufacturers idled for several weeks then, costing the economy.
New variants of the virus, like the British one, have added to the latest surge. A slow vaccine rollout is also not helping.
There were 8,531 COVID-related deaths in January and February, nearly as many as in the 10 months before. The death toll now totals 20,469. (Reporting by Jiri Skacel and Robert Muller, writing by Jason Hovet; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)