The Czech Republic on Wednesday, responding to an influx in cases that in mid-October made it the country with the highest coronavirus transmission rates in Europe, announced plans to close most shops and further tighten restrictions on movement.
Last week, the country closed schools, bars, restaurants and clubs. Places serving takeout food could do so only until 8 p.m., and just through windows. Beginning Thursday and lasting until at least Nov. 3, nonessential shops will also be closed and people will be urged to keep contact to a minimum.
But despite the strict new rules, the government has shied away from calling the measures a lockdown. Prime Minister Andrej Babis, speaking to the news media after a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday, apologized to the nation, saying the steps were necessary to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
“Even though we have one of the most robust health care systems in Europe, if we did not take action, the health care system would collapse around November 7 to 11,” he said, according to Czech Television, the public broadcaster.
The minister of health, Roman Prymula, who is an epidemiologist, noted during the same briefing that people should restrict their movements and contact with other people and only make necessary trips out for doctor’s appointments and essential supplies.
The new measures are a stark turn from the country’s approach this spring and summer, when it appeared to have been spared the worst of the first wave of the pandemic and was able to quickly loosen restrictions. In June, 2,000 people celebrated what they saw as victory over the virus with a feast on Prague’s Charles Bridge.