Slovakia follows Austria in lockdown amid record-breaking rise in COVID cases

  • The government approves a two-week lockdown
  • COVID cases hit record daily, vaccination low
  • Movement should be limited, only necessary trips
  • Measures must be assessed after 10 days
  • Any solution will only apply to the vaccinated

PRAGUE, NOVEMBER 24 (Reuters) – The Slovak government followed the example of neighboring Austria on Wednesday, ordering a two-week lockdown to stem the world’s fastest rise in COVID-19 cases as the number of sick people in hospital reached a critical level and vaccination levels remain low.

Restaurants and unnecessary shops will close as part of the measures, and movement will be restricted to trips to important shopping, work, school or doctor visits along with nature walks, government officials said.

On Tuesday, Slovakia registered more than 10,000 new daily infections for the first time since the pandemic started, while hospitalizations hit what the health ministry called a “critical point” that meant limiting other care and possibly asking for foreign assistance.

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“The situation is serious,” said Prime Minister Eduard Heger. “We came here because the (existing) measures were not complied with.”

Adjusted for population size, Slovakia is experiencing the world’s fastest increase in infections, according to Our World in Data, which tops a list currently led by other European countries. Read more

Neighboring Czech Republic and Hungary both recorded a record daily increase in cases on Tuesday, while Austria also implemented a total shutdown this week, closing non-essential shops, bars and cafés for at least 10 days.

Slovakia’s decision to return to a lockdown comes after the government already this week imposed new restrictions on unvaccinated people in an attempt to push up inoculations. Before that, the country had gradually tightened restrictions in hard-hit regions, as cases have risen over the past month.

Heger said the measures would be assessed after 10 days and that any solution would only be for the vaccinated.

Less than 50% of the 5.5 million people in the country are fully vaccinated, which is the third lowest rate in the EU. The unvaccinated count for most cases and hospitalizations.

President Zuzana Caputova made an emotional prayer on Tuesday, saying the country was losing the battle against COVID-19 and needed a lockdown when health workers were overwhelmed.

The number of hospitalized patients has reached 3,200 and is approaching the peaks of around 3,800 seen in the last wave of the pandemic.

Dagmar Sudekova, deputy director of Zilina Hospital in one of the hardest-hit regions, told state radio RTVS on Tuesday night that more than 80% of patients were unvaccinated and the hospital’s ventilation and high-flow oxygen beds were full.

“We just manage with the help of neighboring hospitals,” she said.

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Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Edited by Kirsten Donovan and Hugh Lawson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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