Covid: Omicron surge behind record-high daily Czech caseload

As anticipated, a surge in the Omicron variant of coronavirus has led to sharp rise in new infections. Some 28,469 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded on Tuesday – the highest figure in the Czech Republic since the pandemic began. And health authorities say the daily toll will likely reach 50,000 before the end of January.

The highly contagious Omicron variant now accounts for an estimated 80 to 90 percent of all reported Covid cases in the Czech Republic.

As such, the actual number of infections is likely now exponentially higher than the official statistics show, says Ladislav Dušek, director of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics (ÚZIS).

“There are, for certain, tens of thousands more infections each day. Don’t forget that the figures reflect newly registered cases, and the actual numbers could be twice or three times higher. So, we have not reached the anticipated peak.

Ladislav Dušek | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

“The number of people hospitalised has not risen as rapidly and for now is manageable. However, this relatively positive development could of course change significantly in the coming days.”

As of this Monday, employers in the Czech Republic must provide two Covid-19 tests a week for their staff, including those who are vaccinated against the virus.

That system was due to remain in place for three weeks at most, as authorities braced for Omicron wave. The government has also approved a possible “work quarantine” for social workers and healthcare professionals and is due to announce further containment measures on Wednesday.

For his part, Institute of Health Information and Statistics director Ladislav Dušek says that (short of a total lockdown), no measures can effectively stop the spread.

“I’m convinced there is no way to stop Omicron. It will spread through the population above all among unvaccinated, unprotected individuals.

“With well-defined rules, the spread can be slowed, and the wave flattened. And in this way, we can preserve the capacity of hospitals to handle it.”

René Levínský | Photo: Czech Radio

René Levínský, executive director of the Centre for Modelling Biological and Social Processes (BISOP), predicts that the Omicron wave in the Czech Republic will peak in early February.

The percentage of people hospitalised with Omicron in comparable countries, where the variant arrived sooner, has ranged from about 1 to 3 percent.

“The main evolutionary advantage of Omicron is that it can more readily infect people who have a level of immunity due to vaccination or having contracted an earlier strain.

“It’s not that that Omicron is a weaker ‘animal’ [in evolutionary terms]. But it is an animal that attacks more strong people, who can survive it…

“The risk of overcrowding our hospitals is not that high. The much greater risk is that we could have big problems with critical infrastructure if too many people are quarantined or in isolation at once.”

For that reason, Levínský says, he appreciates that the government has reduced the quarantine period to five days, as advocated by the Interdisciplinary Group on Epidemic Situations (MeSES) and introduced twice-weekly mandatory testing at all workplaces.