PRAGUE, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Slovakia reported its highest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, just ahead of a government meeting likely to agree a short-term lockdown to quell the world's fastest surge in infections.
Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, has the highest per-capita infection rise in the world, according to figures from Our World in Data, as Europe becomes an epicentre of the pandemic again.
Neighbouring Austria has already locked down its population this week, for at least 10 days, to become the first to re-impose such restrictions, and Slovakia was looking at taking a similar step on Wednesday when the government meets.
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Before the meeting, Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said no alternative existed.
"If we want to be responsible, we have only one option, the rest is populism," he was quoted as saying by news server Dennik N, which earlier reported government parties had a preliminary agreement on a two-week lockdown.
A strong surge in COVID-19 cases has been seen around central and eastern Europe: the Czech Republic and Hungary also reported record daily tallies of new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.
In Slovakia, which has the European Union's third-lowest vaccination rate with only 45% of the population inoculated, the surge is putting new pressure on hospitals.
The Health Ministry said the number of people hospitalised had reached a "critical point" at 3,200 and was approaching peaks of around 3,800 seen in the last wave of the pandemic. Most patients were unvaccinated.
Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.comRegisterReporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans and Philippa Fletcher