A medic follows a Covid-19 patient into a hospital in Cheb, Czech Republic, February 22 2021. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID W CERNY
A medic follows a Covid-19 patient into a hospital in Cheb, Czech Republic, February 22 2021. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID W CERNY

Prague — The Czech medical system is nearing “total exhaustion” as coronavirus patients overwhelm intensive-care units, forcing hospitals to curb other care and consider seeking help from neighbouring countries, a government official said on Tuesday.

The central European nation has turned from one of the continent’s most successful in containing the pandemic in 2020 into one of the worst-hit in terms of Covid-19 cases and deaths per capita. The escalating health crisis, repeated lockdowns and political infighting are hurting the popularity of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis eight months before elections.

“Health-care capacity is close to total exhaustion,” deputy health minister Vladimir Cerny said on Tuesday. “This is an unprecedented situation in Czech history. There’s no way we can ensure health-care standards now.”

After a brief respite that allowed the reopening of stores before Christmas, the Czechs have been experiencing a spike in infections in 2021, including faster-spreading coronavirus variants.

Cerny said he’s asked the health minister to officially request help from neighbouring countries, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel already offering to take nine Czech patients. Overall ICU capacity may be fully used in two to three weeks' time unless the current spike in infections is curbed, he said.

Earlier, Merkel reportedly said Germany is in its third wave of the pandemic and there would be no quick easing of coronavirus restrictions there.

On Monday, Slovakia's foreign minister Ivan Korcok called on EU partners to send an advance vaccine shipment to the country, which he said was in a “tragic” coronavirus situation.

The country of 5.5-million has suffered about 100 deaths per day recently, the highest in the world relative to population on a one-week basis and ahead of neighbouring Czech Republic, according to data tracker ourworldindata.org.

Slovakia had 3,672 patients in hospital with confirmed coronavirus by Sunday and 6,577 deaths from Covid-19. It had vaccinated 272,341 people with at least one dose by Sunday, according to government data, slightly ahead of the EU average.

“I will inform my foreign minister colleagues about the very serious and what can be called tragic situation we have with Covid,” Korcok told reporters ahead of a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels. “I fully realise that other countries have a vaccine shortage as well but Slovakia now, also based on the fact that we have the highest death rate, at the moment needs it most.”

Slovakia has asked through the EU's emergency mechanism for the help of 10 doctors and 25 nurses from abroad.


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