Slovakia sees virus deaths soar, blames variant found in UK

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A teacher receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from a health worker during vaccination of pedagogical staff at the vaccination center in Kosice, Slovakia, on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Frantisek Ivan/TASR via AP)

PRAGUE – Slovakia has become the nation with most COVID-19 deaths by size of population in the world amid a surge of cases from a highly contagious coronavirus variant.

Despite a tough lockdown, the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Slovakia has risen from 1.68 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 1 to 1.78 deaths per 100,000 people on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University figures issued Tuesday.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova called the situation very serious.

“We need to abide by all the rules," Caputova said Tuesday after meeting with a group of scientists and medical experts. "It’s inevitable for us to endure this period of time.”

Portugal, which had the world's highest rate of COVID-19 deaths among its population for more than three weeks, dropped to second place with 1.48 deaths per 100,000 people.

“The most significant factor that has prevented coronavirus cases from falling in Slovakia is a high occurrence of the variant that was found in Britain,” Marek Majdan, a Slovak epidemiologist and vice rector of Trnava University, told The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, the Slovakian government announced the fast-spreading coronavirus variant first found in southern England had become dominant in the Central European country. The pronouncement came after health authorities sequenced all the positive samples nationwide from one day.

The British variant was detected in 74% of them, which Health Minister Marek Krajci called “an unbelievable high number.”