PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech government is ordering medical and other university and high school students to help out at hospitals struggling to cope the record numbers of COVID-19 patients, the country’s health minister said on Friday, as the country faces a new spike in infections.
Health Minister Jan Blatny warned that hospitals across the country are under “extreme pressure” amid an infection surge that he attributed to a highly contagious coronavirus variant.
“The more infectious variant of the coronavirus, the British one, has been spreading across all our regions and has become dominant in the Czech Republic,” Blatny said.
Blatny said students will get to work at hospitals on Monday. They’ll handle simple tasks, like transporting patients, but won’t be allowed to treat anyone in intensive are units.
He said the situation will remain difficult as 600-700 daily hospital admissions are expected over the next 10 days.
Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 14,554 on Thursday with 8,153 COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization – some 300 cases shy of Tuesday’s record. Of those patients hospitalized 1,735 were in intensive care – eight less than a record set a few days ago.
Individual hospitals, especially in the Czech Republic’s western region near the German border and the central part of the country around Prague, have been already overwhelmed, transferring some patients to clinics elsewhere in the country.
“Staff are terribly tired,” Petr Hubacek, the director of a regional hospital in Domazlice told Czech public television. “It’s more about mental exhaustion than physical fatigue.”
The country has activated a plan for dozens of Czech patients to be treated in Germany, Poland and Switzerland. The three countries were among those that have offered help. The Czech Health Minister said no one had been transferred abroad as of Friday.
The Czech Republic has by far the biggest 14-day infection rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the EU, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The government also ordered on Friday mandatory mass testing of state employees. It follows the same order for private companies issued earlier this week. Prime Minister Andrej Babis appealed to private company owners to encourage their employees to work from home whenever possible.
The nation of 10.7 million has 1.3 million confirmed cases with 21,325 deaths.