PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Health Ministry is preparing a decree making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for people over 60, as well as workers in critical sectors such as medical staff, police, soldiers and firefighters, news website www.idnes.cz reported on Friday.
The government has been considering compulsory vaccinations due to lagging inoculation numbers compared with west European nations. The country of 10.7 million has been one of the world's worst-hit in recent weeks by a surge in infections.
Some other European countries have begun moving towards compulsory vaccinations, including the Czech Republic's neighbour Austria, which has mandated shots for all citizens.
"It is clear that Europe is turning toward compulsory vaccination against COVID-19. Czechia should take the same path," the website quoted Vojtech as saying.
It said the decree should be published next week, with the vaccine mandate effective from March.
But whether it remains in place long enough to take effect could be in doubt, as the government is due to be replaced by a centre-right coalition later this month following an election in October. The new coalition has been against compulsory vaccination for age groups, and lukewarm on mandatory vaccination for professions.
Just 59.6% of Czechs are vaccinated, compared to an EU average of 66.3%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Inoculation numbers rose in the past weeks as the government banned access for those not vaccinated to restaurants and other services from November. There have however been public protests against vaccination and epidemiological measures.
An opinion poll by the STEM agency released on Friday showed 19% of the population remained opposed to getting the shots.
It said the public was split 43% to 43% on supporting or rejecting compulsory vaccination.
The Czech Republic has reported 33,450 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the worst rates per capita globally.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)