‘Hellish days await us’: European country facing 'catastrophe’ amid one of world’s worst COVID spikes

KARVINA, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 11: A healthcare worker takes care of a patient in the ICU ward at Hospital Karvina-Raj on January 11, 2020 in Karvina, Czech Republic. The hospital has been overwhelmed by recent mounting numbers of Covid-19 patients as new confirmed COVID-19 infections reach record highs. The Czech Republic has had over 13,000 Covid-19 deaths and reported over 4,000 new cases yesterday. (Photo by Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)
A healthcare worker takes care of a patient in an intensive care unit ward at a hospital in Karvina, Czech Republic. (Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)

The prime minister of the Czech Republic has warned of “hellish days” ahead as the country continues to suffer one of the world's biggest spike in coronavirus cases.

Restrictions are set to be tightened to prevent a “catastrophe” in its hospitals, PM Andrej Babis said.

After a winter spike in late December and early January which peaked with a seven-day average of 12,970 cases on 10 January, cases initially began dwindling.

However, infections started increasing again this month, with 15,815 recorded on Wednesday, the highest daily number since 17,765 on 7 January, according to the Worldometer website.

KRAKOW, POLAND - FEBRUARY 17: The Prime Minister of Czech Republic, Andrzej Babis speaks at the press conference during the 30th Anniversary of the Visegrad group on February 17, 2021 in Krakow, Poland. The heads of state of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel meet on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Visegrad Group. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)
Czech PM Andrej Babis has been facing growing criticism over his handling of the pandemic. (Getty Images)

The current seven-day average of daily cases is 10,279, while the infection rate is six times higher than that of neighbouring Germany.

Babis, who has been facing growing criticism over his handling of the pandemic, warned on Wednesday: “Hellish days await us.”

The Czech Republic, which has a population 10.7 million, is reportedly already close to running out of hospital beds to treat seriously ill COVID patients. A record 1,389 are being treated for severe illness.

Details of the tougher restrictions have yet to be shared, with the country having been in some form of lockdown since October.

Schools, non-essential shops, restaurants and entertainment venues have been closed, though factories have remained open unlike during the first lockdown in spring last year – when the country had managed to keep infections down.

At that time, the government had been praised for its swift action, but since the first winter spike has been accused of "chaotic" handling of the pandemic.

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It comes as a World Health Organization (WHO) leader warned on Thursday that it may be 2022 before Europe is “done with the pandemic”.

Dr Hans Kluge, regional director of WHO Europe, suggested coronavirus restrictions could still be in place for some time to come.

“No-one can predict the course of a pandemic,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

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Dr Kluge, when talking about the prospects of the continent, said: “As a working assumption, I would think that the beginning of 2022 we may be done with the pandemic, with a lot of disruptive interventions, but the virus will still not be at bay."

In Europe, cases have almost halved since the end of 2020, but remain 10 times higher than they were after the first wave in May last year.

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