Czech Republic tops record infection surge in Eastern Europe

PRAGUE (AP) - The Czech government on Thursday announced further restrictions to contain the pandemic in the hardest hit country in Central and Eastern Europe, where most other countries have seen record increases in infections.
Health Minister Roman Prymula called his country's record surge "alarming" and said the Czech health system had seen a sharp increase in people in need of intensive care while more COVID-19 patients died.
"We have to limit these increases," said Prymula.
In the Czech Republic, more people test positive every day than in any other country in Central and Eastern Europe, even in neighboring Germany, which has eight times the population.
From Monday, all theaters, cinemas and zoos will be closed for at least two weeks.
"We have to limit the number of people who meet outside of their families," said Prymula.
At the same time, all indoor sports activities are prohibited. Only up to 20 people are allowed to compete outdoors, a measure that hits professional sports like soccer hard.
Prymula said planned international games will be allowed to take place outdoors without fans.
Fitness centers and public indoor pools are closed for at least two weeks from Friday. Restaurants and bars have to close at 8 p.m. A maximum of four people are allowed per table.
All universities and most high schools offer distance learning only.
The new confirmed day-to-day increase hit a new record high of 5,335 on Wednesday, nearly 900 more than the previous Tuesday.
Officials said they anticipate up to 8,000 could test positive every day in October. The total number of new cases could reach 130,000 this month.
To date, 95,360 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and there have been 863 deaths after a record 41 deaths on Wednesday. Of the 43,764 currently ill, 1,700 are in hospital. Officials estimate up to 4,000 will be hospitalized by the end of the month, of which 1,000 are in severe condition and reaching the limit of the health system
In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that face masks will be mandatory in all public areas, including outdoors, on Thursday. The measure came after the country hit a new record high of 4,280 new cases and 76 people died in one day - another record.
The virus situation has also worsened in most of the Balkan and Eastern European countries. Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Slovakia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Bosnia reported new record infections every day, and officials urged citizens to comply with protective measures. Others reported daily infection records on Wednesday.
Croatia has reported a surge in new infections since the end of the summer tourism season, with hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to the country's Adriatic coast. According to state television HRT, authorities are preparing a recreation area in the capital, Zagreb, to accommodate people with COVID-19 who have nowhere to self-isolate.
Slovenia was the first EU country to declare itself COVID-19 free at the beginning of summer. However, 387 new infections were reported on Thursday.
Bosnia reported 453. In neighboring Montenegro, high numbers have been reported for days, while Serbia has managed to keep the pandemic relatively under control in recent weeks after a sharp rise in summer.
After registering new infections on Thursday, authorities in North Macedonia are planning new measures, including the compulsory use of masks outdoors, a limit on family gatherings for four people, and a ban on public gatherings after 10 p.m. in parks, bars and restaurants.
In Hungary, a record of 932 tested positive on Wednesday. Another 21 died, bringing the death toll to 898.
Romania posted a new all-time high of 3,130 new cases with 44 deaths on Thursday. The new measures include the closure of indoor restaurants, cinemas, theaters, discos and venues. Neighboring Moldova also reported a record of 1,063 new infections on Wednesday.
Bulgaria recorded 436 infections and 11 deaths, bringing the death toll to 873. On Thursday, a refugee center on the outskirts of the capital Sofia was quarantined because of a coronavirus outbreak.
The Czech Republic's neighbor, Slovakia, also reported a record of 1,037 new infections.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic described the development as "a serious moment for Slovakia". Matovic said he would consider further tightening restrictions on travelers from the Czech Republic. The two countries formed Czechoslovakia until it was divided in 1993.
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Vadim Ghirda in Bucharest, Romania, Bela Szandelszky in Budapest, Hungary, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia contributed to this report.
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