COVID-19 infections to rise but health system will not crash, says Prymula

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COVID-19 infection rates are expected to continue to grow for the next 10 to 14 days, Health Minister Roman Prymula said at a special press briefing on Friday at which the country’s leading health officials presented a wide range of data on the current epidemiological situation and assured the public that a collapse of the Czech health system is not a real threat.

Nearly every day now a record is set in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the Czech Republic. Thursday was no exception, with 9,721 infections recorded in one day by the Ministry of Health.

In this atmosphere of gloom, some have called on the state leadership to release more data and inform about its future plans to tackle the epidemic. In response, Health Minister Roman Prymula and fellow leading health officials held a video briefing on Friday.

Dr. Prymula tried to calm the situation and said that he does not expect the health system to collapse, as some have warned. However, he stressed that the upcoming several weeks will be hard and care will have to be limited when not absolutely necessary.

Roman Prymula, photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

“We are in the beginning stages of a period that will be extremely difficult.

“We are looking at a period of three weeks when the number of infected will grow. I hope it will not be the entire three-week period, but at least for the next 10 to 14 days we will see cases rise.

“Therefore, the health care system needs to be bolstered with enough capacity to withstand the incoming pressure.”

The health minister went on to say that the capacity of hospital beds has already been nearly doubled and that new field hospitals are being created to act as a further reserve in case of a surprise surge in patients requiring hospitalisation. One such 500-bed hospital in Prague’s Letňany is set to begin construction this weekend.

The main risk indicators of the crisis the country is facing are a high rate of growth in new cases and the danger which the virus poses to the older and more vulnerable segments of the population, according to the head of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics, Ladislav Dušek.

One of the halls that will serve as a field hospital in Prague’s Letňany, photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

He said the main reason why the health care system is under pressure is that the infection rate is also growing among people over the age of 65, around 9,500 of whom have contracted the virus since October 1.

Dr. Dušek said that one of the key areas to focus on right now is the reproduction number (R), in other words the average rate of how many people one person will infect.

“The problem lies in the volume and numbers of infected patients. We ended September with 46,000 newly diagnosed patients.

"Therefore, even if the R number exceeds 1 by a small margin, it could mean a very high increase in patients.

"That is why we so often hear that we must reduce the R number to below 1 in order to ease the pressure on hospitals.”

Currently, the R number lies at 1.44 and was as high as 1.5 during the weekend. Models showed during Friday’s press briefing indicated that the number of new cases could exceed 24,000 a day by the end of October if the R number is not reduced.

However, the statistician said that an overview of the current data suggests that the scenario is moving more towards an overall R number of 1.2.