Czech Health Ministry may propose rise to highest COVID-19 risk level

Following a five-week high in the number of reported COVID-19 cases, the Czech Republic may be headed back to the fifth PES level


Written by ČTK Published on 19.12.2020 09:47:00 (updated on 19.12.2020) Reading time: 3 minutes

An expert group within the Czech Health Ministry will assess whether the office will propose to the government that the Czech Republic move to the highest (fifth) COVID-19 risk level in its PES system, Health Minister Jan Blatný said in a press release today.

The Czech Republic just moved to the fourth PES risk level on Friday, and anti-coronavirus measures were tightened accordingly. An exception was made for shops and services, however, which have remained open.

However, the PES score rose to 76 points on the on Friday, which corresponds to the fifth risk level and further restrictions.

"The score must stay in a higher category for at least three days, and this alone will be a reason for the decision-making," Blatný said.

Another factor in the decision will be the surging number of new hospitalized COVID-19 patients, he added.

If the PES score moves to a lower or higher risk level, the measures will not change automatically. A lower score must be maintained for seven consecutive days for the measures to be relaxed, or be higher for three consecutive days for them to be tightened.

Blatný also said the risks of particular activities would be re-assessed at the end of the year, along with the method of factoring (less reliable) antigen tests within the PES system, which may lead to a change in the PES charts.

The risk score assesses the COVID-19 epidemic development in the Czech Republic over the past two weeks, and it corresponds to five levels of anti-coronavirus measures that affect economic, educational, cultural, and sports activities.

Blatný said the risk of particular activities should be re-evaluated.

"Less-risky activities might be enabled at that point," he said, adding that he did not support other exemptions.

Further anti-epidemic measures must be expected through at least the first half of 2021, Blatný said. The reopening of schools will be regulated under the PES risk level valid through that time.

"The number of the new cases has been rising partially due to the [blanket] population testing using antigen tests," Blatný added. Since December 16, free antigen testing has been made available to all Czech residents.

He estimated the daily number of new cases by the end of the year at up to 10,000. The highest number of new daily cases in the Czech Republic was roughly 15,000.

The average daily number of new COVID-19 cases was about 6,000 this week. The figure increased by about 30% over last week, and will be higher next week, Institute of Health Information and Statistics (UZIS) head Ladislav Dušek said.

The reproduction number, which represents the average number of people who will get infected from one COVID-19-positive person, has risen to 1.2. The percentage of positive cases compared to all tests conducted is on the rise, too.

The share of the infected seniors is increasing as well, but the number of infections in senior homes is dropping thanks to regular testing.

The goal is mainly to protect the capacity of the healthcare system, Blatný said.

"The situation in hospitals has been worsening. The number of infected health workers is rising again in some regions, which also lowers their capacity," he warned.

About 5,100 healthcare workers are currently ill with COVID-19. On average, 300 to 350 COVID-19 positive patients enter hospitals every day due to their worsening condition.

"The number of new cases need not be such a problem if this is not reflected in hospitals," Blatný noted.

The PES system assesses the epidemic development on the scale from 0 to 100 points based on four criteria: the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in general; the number of new COVID-19 cases in the senior population; the percentage of positive cases among those tested; and the reproduction number.

However, the method will be modified to take into account the blanket testing using antigen tests. About 5 percent of the 44,000 antigen tests for COVID-19 carried out in the Czech Republic on December 4-17 were positive, and an additional PCR test is required to confirm those positive results.

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