Czech health care under pressure; hospitals hit virus record

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Healthcare workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit (ICU) at Na Bulovce hospital in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. A record surge of new coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic in September has been followed by a record surge of those hospitalized with COVID-19. The development has started to put the health system in the country under serious pressure for the first time since the pandemic hit Europe. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE – A record surge of new coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic in September has been followed by a record number of virus patients being hospitalized, putting the nation's health care system under serious pressure for the first time in the pandemic.

After relaxing almost all virus restrictions in the summer, the Czech government has responded to the new spike by declaring a state of emergency on Wednesday. That has been accompanied by strict restrictions ranging from limiting public events to a ban on singing at churches and schools.

The Czech Republic faced a record surge of new COVID-19 cases two weeks ago with more than 3,000 testing positive in one day. On Wednesday, it hit almost 3,000 new cases again.

On Tuesday, 151 COVID-19 patients were admitted at hospitals across the country, bringing the total number of those hospitalized to 976. Of them, 202 needed intensive care. All three categories are records.

“(The outbreak) is not under control at this very moment,” Petr Smejkal, chief epidemiologist at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague, told The Associated Press.

September was by far the worst month for the country of nearly 10.7 million people. The number of all infected went up by more than 46,000 from 24,616 to 70,771, according to government figures released Thursday. A month ago, only 172 virus patients were being treated in hospitals and 35 were in intensive care wards.

“We have quite a robust health care system,” Smejkal said. “But the bottleneck of the system is not the ventilators and the machines. The bottleneck is the staff.”

Hospitals in the country have 6,000 beds assigned for COVID-19 patients and another 1,000 at intensive care wards.