Czech hospitals ready to withstand COVID-19 surge, officials say

PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech healthcare system faces a difficult few weeks ahead but is not threatened by collapse, health officials said on Friday after another record one-day increase in COVID-19 cases, extending the biggest surge in new infections in Europe.

With a population of 10.7 million and grappling with an exponential rise in cases, the Czech Republic has begun to build backup capacity outside of hospitals in case of a sharper than expected rise in patients.

The number of COVID-19 patients has nearly doubled to around 3,000 since Oct. 5, about seven times levels seen in the first wave in March and April. About a fifth need intensive care.

Moreover, COVID-related deaths in the Czech Republic have climbed 83% to 1,230 this month. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has reported 4.9 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days, another European high.

Hospitals have begun cutting some care to handle rising numbers of COVID-19 patients while the state has started building a makeshift hospital at a fairground in Prague and struck preliminary agreements with bordering German states to take in Czech patients there if needed.

Health Minister Roman Prymula said on Friday field hospitals were a backup and hospital capacity was being boosted. He said forecasts show the number of patients would rise to 5,000 in the next 10 days or two weeks.

“I would like to appeal to all of us to help the medical staff, because they will be in the front line.”

The head of the country’s intensive care organisation, Vladimir Cerny, told a Health Ministry news conference the next two weeks would be difficult but the system was not at risk of collapse.

The total number of cases since the pandemic started in March has more than doubled to 149,010 this month. The Health Ministry recorded 9,721 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, setting a single-day record for a second day.

According to a Health Ministry estimate, there were 800,000-900,000 people with heightened risk of severe impact on their health from the COVID-19 respiratory illness in the country and they needed extra protection.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by David Goodman and Mark Heinrich)

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