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TRENCIN, Slovakia, Nov. 25 (Reuters) – Slovakia entered a two-week lockdown on Thursday as the country with one of the EU’s lowest vaccination rates reported a critical situation in hospitals and new infections that topped the world rankings.
Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, has closed all but essential shops and services and banned people from traveling outside their districts unless they go to work, school or a doctor. Gatherings of more than six people were banned.
The decision comes as the number of coronavirus cases rise across Europe, putting the continent back at the center of the pandemic, and follows neighboring Austria which began a lockdown on Monday.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), only 45.7% of the Slovak population has been vaccinated, the third lowest rate in the EU, compared to 65.8% in the whole bloc as a whole. With 1,929 average daily cases per million inhabitants in the past week, it has the world’s highest incidence rate according to Our World in Data.
Tomas Sulik, chief of the intensive care unit at Trencin University Hospital, said he had nine patients in the 10-bed ward and expected the last one to be filled within hours. All nine patients, with a mean age of 63 years, were not vaccinated.
“There is a sense of frustration. These are conditions that can be prevented by vaccination,” Sulik told Reuters. “This wave is more intense, the increase in the number of patients is much steeper and the age structure is moving towards younger patients.”
Exhausted staff quit, including four doctors who have left since the last wave.
Elsewhere in Trencin, a town 130 km (80 miles) north of Bratislava, musical instrument store manager Roman Spatny said his income was tied to sales and would disappear with another Christmas season lost to the lockdown.
“For us this is a knife in the back. We have to close at a time when business is most important to us, just like last year,” he said.
Student Natalia Paskova (17) saw little choice: “The situation is deteriorating, so the decisions are justified,” she said.
Hospitals have reached the 3,200 patient limit, which the government said was critical to maintaining care. The health ministry has said it has begun discussing possible aid abroad.
Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa Writing by Jan Lopatka Editing by Peter Graff
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