July 27, 2020 / 4:23 PM / 7 days ago

Czechs seek 'smart quarantine' reboot as virus cases rise

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government announced on Monday an overhaul of its much-criticised system of tracking and isolating contacts of people with COVID-19 as it battles a spike in new infections.

FILE PHOTO: People ride pedal boats on the Vltava river following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Prague, Czech Republic, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The government launched its “smart quarantine” system in the spring as it sought to ease nationwide restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, but it has come under increased criticism, including by ministers, for being ineffective.

The central European country of 10.7 million has fought several local outbreaks in the past month, pushing the daily increase in new coronavirus cases to over 100 on most days in July after a period when cases mostly rose in the double digits.

Under the new plans, an oversight body led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis will manage the smart quarantine programme, which uses mobile data to track those who have come into contact with infected people.

The army will take over from the health ministry logistical duties such as testing points and laboratories.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said his team would focus more on the epidemiological situation and countermeasures.

“The truth is the army is a valuable partner for us,” CTK news agency cited Vojtech as telling reporters.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, leader of the junior ruling coalition party Social Democrats, said on Sunday smart quarantining was not working. Babis has said there are problems interconnecting IT systems with regional health offices.

The Czech Republic has reported 15,324 cases of the new coronavirus since March, with 371 deaths.

The number of active cases had been at a record high above 5,000 before a Health Ministry audit of regional offices led to a cut of 1,775 cases over the weekend as a number of people were re-classified as having recovered.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones

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