PRAGUE — Slovakia will begin a two-week lockdown on Thursday as new COVID-19 cases have spiraled out of control, Economy Minister Richard Sulík said Wednesday.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Sulík said all restaurants and shops will be closed for 14 days, except for essential stores, such as groceries and pharmacies.
“We all wish and hope that the situation will improve by then,” he said. “We will evaluate the situation again in 10 days.”
Slovakia, along with other countries in central Europe including the neighboring Czech Republic and Austria, is bearing the brunt of a record-breaking fourth wave of infection. Austria this week entered a full national lockdown, and has become the first Western democracy to make vaccination compulsory for the general public.
The Slovak government also imposed a new state of emergency for 90 days, which empowers it to impose a curfew. From midnight on Wednesday, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to go to the shops or to work, to take a walk in the park, visit their doctor or go to the hospital.
In addition, from next week only vaccinated employees and those who have recovered from COVID in the past six months will be able to go to their places of work. Others workers will have to be tested at the workplace every seven days.
The announcement came after 10,315 cases of new coronavirus infection were detected in Slovakia on Tuesday — the most since the start of the pandemic. The total number of registered infections in the country of 5.5 million inhabitants now totals nearly 1.1 million.
In addition, the number of people hospitalized with COVID has reached 3,200, which health officials have called a critical limit.
Earlier, a consortium of health experts called for a three-week lockdown and for schools to be closed, which the government rejected.
“The epidemic situation in Slovakia is critical and reaching the level of a humanitarian crisis,” the experts wrote. “The morbidity of COVID-19 is higher now than at the peak of the second wave of the pandemic.”
The main reason for the high number of infections and deaths is the low rate of vaccination in the country. Only 43 percent of the Slovak population has been fully vaccinated, data shows. The EU average is 67 percent.
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