Czechs order early closure of bars and restaurants, president taken to hospital with COVID

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PRAGUE – The Czech government on Thursday ordered bars and clubs to close at 10 p.m. and banned Christmas markets in a bid to stem one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates.

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The new restrictions also include a maximum participation of 1,000 people in cultural and sporting events, stopping before sweeping lockdowns in neighboring Austria and Slovakia, where infection rates are even higher.

Just hours after the new restrictions were announced, the presidential office said President Milos Zeman was taken to hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus, although local media reported he had no symptom.

It was less than half a day after the 77-year-old leader left the hospital after 46 days of treatment for an unrelated chronic illness.

The Czechs recorded more than 25,000 new cases, a record high, on Tuesday, and an average of 1,516 daily COVID-19 cases per million population over the past week, the third highest in the world behind Slovakia and Austria, according to Our World in Data.

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Health Minister Adam Vojtech said daily infections and hospital admissions are likely to rise further, but the government hoped the new measures would prevent the need for tighter restrictions.

The limits on pubs and events are in addition to previous restrictions that already ban people who have not been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 from places such as pubs, restaurants, cinemas, hairdressers and gyms .

“Let’s wait 10 days and then we can potentially adjust the measures,” Vojtech said after the government declared a 30-day state of emergency to put the measures in place.

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Many hospitals have canceled elective care to reserve capacity for coronavirus patients, and some, particularly in the south-eastern part of the country near the borders with Slovakia and Austria, have reported they are overflowing.

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Helicopters and a special ambulance bus on Thursday transported 19 patients from the eastern city of Brno to hospitals in the capital Prague, 200 km (120 miles) away.

Motol University Hospital in Prague took seven.

“We now have 110 patients, about half of them are in severe or semi-severe condition and … two-thirds of them are not vaccinated,” Motol director told reporters, Miroslav Ludvik.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis – who is due to hand over to a new administration in a few weeks – said the government supports compulsory vaccination for people over 50 or 60 as well as certain professions, and that it could be approved next week.

The new government, however, has spoken out against the vaccination warrants.

The Czech Republic vaccinated 58.5% of the total population, below the EU average of 65.8%, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Data from the Ministry of Health showed that 70% of intensive care patients were not vaccinated. There were nearly 6,000 coronavirus patients in hospitals and around 850 in intensive care, the data showed.

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