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Czech Republic tops record infection surge in Eastern Europe

PRAGUE – The Czech government announced further restrictions Thursday to contain the pandemic in the hardest hit-country in struggling Central and Eastern Europe, where a record surge of infections was also recorded in most other countries.

Calling his country's record spike “alarming,” Health Minister Roman Prymula said the Czech health care system has been facing a steep increase of people needing intensive care, while more COVID-19 patients have been dying.

“We have to limit those increases,” Prymula said.

The Czech Republic currently has more people testing positive daily than any other country in Central and Eastern Europe, even neighboring Germany whose population is eight times bigger.

Starting Monday, all theaters, cinemas and zoos will be closed for at least two weeks.

“We have to limit the numbers of people who meet each other outside their families,” Prymula said.

At the same time, all indoor sports activities will be banned. Outdoors, only up to 20 people will be allowed to participate in competitions, a measure that will badly hit professional sports such as soccer.

Prymula said planned outdoor international games will be allowed to go ahead without fans.

Fitness centers and indoor public swimming pools will be closed for at least two weeks, starting on Friday. Restaurants and bars will have to close at 8 p.m. and a maximum four people will be allowed per table.

All universities and most high schools will offer only remote teaching.

The new confirmed day-to-day increase reached a new record high of 5,335 on Wednesday, almost 900 more than Tuesday's previous record.

Officials said they expect up to 8,000 could be testing positive daily later in October, for which month the overall number of new cases could reach 130,000.

So far 95,360 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and there have been 863 deaths after a record 41 died on Wednesday. Out of 43,764 currently ill, 1,700 are in hospital. Officials expect up to 4,000 will be hospitalized by the end of the month with 1,000 of them in serious condition, reaching the limit of the health system

In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced Thursday face masks will be mandatory in all public spaces, including outdoors. The measure came after the country registered a new record high of 4,280 new cases in one day, with 76 people dying — also a record.

The virus situation has also been worsening in most Balkan and Eastern European countries, with Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Slovakia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Bosnia reporting new record daily infections and officials urging citizens to respect protection measures. Others reported daily infection records on Wednesday.

Croatia has reported a surge in new infections since the end of the summer tourism season that saw hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking to the country’s Adriatic Sea coast. State HRT television says authorities are preparing a recreation area in the capital Zagreb to host people with COVID-19 who have nowhere to self-isolate.

Slovenia was the first EU country to declare itself free of COVID-19 early this summer, but a record 387 new infections were reported Thursday.

Bosnia reported 453. In neighboring Montenegro, high numbers have been reported for days, while Serbia has managed in the past weeks to keep the pandemic relatively under control after facing a major summer surge.

After registering record new infections Thursday, authorities in North Macedonia are planning new measures that include mandatory use of masks outdoors, a four-person cap on family meetings and a ban on public gatherings after 10 p.m. in parks, bars and restaurants.

In Hungary, a record of 932 tested positive on Wednesday. Another 21 died, bringing the number of deaths to 898.

Romania recorded Thursday a new all-time high of 3,130 new cases with 44 deaths. New measures include closure of indoor restaurants, cinemas, theatres, discos and gambling venues. Neighboring Moldova also reported Wednesday a record 1,063 new infections.

Bulgaria saw a record 436 infections and 11 deaths that brought the total death toll to 873. On Thursday, a refugee center in the outskirts of the capital, Sofia, was placed under quarantine because of an outbreak of coronavirus.

The Czech Republic's neighbor Slovakia also reported a record 1,037 new infections.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic called the development “a serious moment for Slovakia.” Matovic said he will consider further tightening restrictions for travelers from the Czech Republic. The two country formed Czechoslovakia until its 1993 split.

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Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Vadim Ghirda in Bucharest, Romania, Bela Szandelszky in Budapest, Hungary, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, North Macedonia contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak