BERLIN — As coronavirus infections surge across parts of Central Europe, the governments of the Czech Republic and Poland are reluctant to return to nationwide lockdowns, even though the renewed pace of infection threatens to overwhelm their health systems.
“We will not decide this week about a lockdown,” Czech Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlicek said Sunday, despite the country reporting one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates, around 10 times as high as neighboring Germany’s.
The Czech government imposed one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns in spring, at a time when the country had one of Europe’s lowest infection rates.
Its response to a second wave has appeared less decisive. Although some curbs have been reimposed in recent weeks — shutting bars, restaurants and schools — pressure has mounted to avoid another nationwide lockdown, as many shops fear bankruptcy.
On Sunday, Czech police officers clashed with violent protesters who oppose the latest restrictions.
Officials accused the protesters of risking additional infections, at a time when hospitals are delaying elective surgeries to make space for coronavirus patients. Czech authorities have scrambled to build field hospitals and are prepared to transfer some patients to neighboring Germany, in case Czech hospitals reach capacity.
Temporary facilities are also being prepared in neighboring Poland, which has seen a surge in infections that has far exceeded daily tallies in the spring.
In Warsaw, authorities are setting up a field hospital in the country’s national stadium, where about 500 coronavirus patients are expected to be treated.
Like the Czech Republic, Poland has imposed some restrictions on schools, universities and restaurants but appears determined to avoid lockdown measures.