The streets of the Slovak capital Bratislava were deserted Thursday as a new partial COVID lockdown came into effect in the country where new cases are soaring. 

Slovakia, which is battling one of the world's highest COVID-19 infection rates, announced new measures on Wednesday, which include closing non-essential shops. 

People have been asked to stay home for much of the day and are allowed outside only between the hours of 1am to 5am for the next two weeks. 

During the day they can only leave the house for essential reasons, including to work or visit essential shops. Schools will also remain open. 

For some, the measures did not come soon enough. 

"It is too late. These restrictions should have been introduced earlier," Lenka Rosenberger told AFP in the empty streets. 

"For certain age groups, vaccination should be mandatory, and schools should have been closed, but the government did not have the courage to do so," the 50-year-old said. 

Health authorities had suggested closing schools nationwide but one member of the four-party central-right government - the SaS party - vetoed the proposal.

"Schools will be the last to close. We insist that they remain open. We also agree that testing in schools should be mandatory," Economy Minister and SaS party chair Richard Sulik told reporters.

The education ministry told AFP that it was important for schools to remain open "because we perceive the urgent need to educate children and protect their mental health".

The move drew criticism from many in the EU member of 5.4 million people.

"Students tend to travel to Bratislava from different regions, therefore the number of infected will spread," said medical student Milan Polacek.

"In many cases, infected parents also bring their children to school, and there are many people who can then spread the disease," he told AFP.

The education ministry said only 1.6% of students tested positive for COVID last week, adding that more than 68% of teachers and school staff were fully vaccinated.

Slovakia registered 980 COVID cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last seven days, according to an AFP count based on official tolls up to Wednesday.

That is the fourth-highest COVID infection rate in the world after Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

Only 45.7% of the population is fully vaccinated in Slovakia.

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