Czechs send police, soldiers to enforce travel limits

PRAGUE (AP) — Police and military forces in the Czech Republic set up 500 checkpoints across the country as one of the European Union’s (EU) hardest-hit nations marked the first anniversary of its coronavirus outbreak on Monday by significantly limiting free movement.

Some 30,000 officers were involved in an unprecedented operation to enforce a tight new restriction that bans people from travelling to other counties unless they go to work or have to take care of relatives.

It’s part of a series of measures that took effect on Monday as the Central European nation seeks to slow down the spread of a highly contagious virus variant first found in Britain.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the measure’s goal was to prevent the country’s hospitals from collapsing under the stress of caring for COVID-19 patients.

Amid a surge of infections from the United Kingdom (UK) variant, of the 7,049 COVID-19 patients in Czech hospitals on Sunday, 1,507 needed intensive care. Both the numbers are close to the records set earlier last week.

Since the Czech Republic registered the first three people infected with coronavirus on March 1 last year, the nation of 10.7 million has see over 1.24 million confirmed cases with 20,469 deaths.

Police officers check cars on a road between the towns, Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov, near Kosov, Czech Republic. PHOTO: AP

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen from 70.75 new cases per 100,000 people on February 14 to 109.82 per 100,000 people on Sunday, the worst per-capita rate in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

As of Monday, people in the Czech Republic who go out for exercise should not leave their municipality. Nursery schools and schools for children with disabilities were also closed while only stores selling essential goods remain open.

Experts, however, say the measures don’t go far enough to stop the virus.

“I consider the most important measures those that haven’t been applied,” biochemist Jan Trnka told the Czech Public radio. “That is to limit contacts at work, especially in the industry.”

The government also approved a plan to require mandatory mass testing of employees. It will start in the companies with more than 250 workers today followed by those with at least 50 employees on Friday.

Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek said around 10,000 firms and companies are expected to test 2.1 million workers in the next two weeks.

Havlicek has previously rejected calls to close at least some plants and factories as “unrealistic”.