UK cases dip as Czech, India concerns grow

·4-min read

Coronavirus infection rates appear to be falling in the UK and Germany while the situation has worsened in the Czech Republic and authorities in India try to contain a regional resurgence.

The Czech government dropped plans on Friday to open all retail shops from next week due to a surge in coronavirus cases as hospitals struggle with a continued influx of patients and a dwindling number of available beds.

The country of 10.7 million has Europe's highest infection rate with 968 new cases per 100,000 people on a two-week basis, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Health Minister Jan Blatny said the COVID-19 situation had "significantly worsened".

"Because of that, the government agreed that the original idea for opening some shops won't happen on Monday (as planned)," he told a televised press conference.

In several regions, hospitals that are full have been transferring patients to a decreasing number of less-strained facilities.

The government said earlier this week it might ask neighbouring Germany to take in patients if the situation worsens further, despite earlier rejecting calls from the most pressured border regions to do so.

Blatny said people would be required from Monday to wear higher quality respiratory masks known as FFP2-grade in shops, public transport and hospitals.

Only shops selling food and other goods deemed essential are currently open.

As of Friday, 14 per cent of intensive care and high dependence beds were available across the country, including 149 places for COVID-19 patients.

The number of those hospitalised in a serious condition has reached 1258, above a previous peak in November.

Meanwhile, a closely monitored survey suggests new coronavirus infections across the UK have fallen sharply.

The Office for National Statistics said in its weekly infection survey that rates of transmission have fallen in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In England, it estimated that in the week to February 12, one in 115 people tested positive for COVID-19.

In the previous week, the rate stood at one in 80.

In Berlin, the head of Germany's disease control agency warned on Friday that the drop in new coronavirus cases has levelled off as the share of more contagious variants is rising.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany may be heading toward another "turning point" in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.

His agency reported 9113 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past day and 508 deaths.

Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Authorities in India's western state of Maharashtra and the financial hub of Mumbai imposed fresh safety measures and partial lockdowns on Friday because of a resurgence in virus cases in the region.

India has reported more than 10.9 million cases, second only to the United States.

However, the pandemic had peaked in the country by mid-September, after which infection rates slowed markedly.

But now, virus cases are back on an upwards trajectory in Maharashtra and the state capital Mumbai, with the region logging 5427 of the total 13,193 cases across the country on Friday, according to the federal health ministry.

Infections had increased by 47 per cent in the past seven days and this was the highest daily tally in 78 days, the Times of India daily reported.

Shashank Joshi of the regional COVID-19 task force told the NDTV network that two new coronavirus strains found in the state could be behind the rapid transmissions in Maharashtra.

However, TP Lahane, state director for medical education and research, told the broadcaster that more studies and sequencing were needed to examine the mutant variety and it was "too early to call it a strain".

Maharashtra and the southern state of Kerala have reported the highest number of infections among Indian states, even as overall case loads declined, contributing between half to three-fourths of the active caseload in India in recent months.

India had administered more than 10.1 million vaccine doses by Friday, behind only the US with 56.28 million and the UK on 16.5 million in terms of total number of vaccinations, the health ministry said.