Czech health minister set to lose job after breaching his own Covid rules

Robert Tait in Prague
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA</span>
Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA

The Czech Republic’s health minister is set to lose his job after visiting a Prague restaurant in what appeared to be a breach of emergency coronavirus regulations he had put forward in an effort to win the country’s increasingly desperate battle against coronavirus.

Roman Prymula, an epidemiologist and the main architect of the Czech regulations, was photographed on Wednesday night by the tabloid Blesk leaving the establishment, which appeared to be illicitly open to high-profile guests, hours after a fresh lockdown was imposed to combat the country’s soaring caseload.

His political fate appeared sealed when the prime minister, Andrej Babiš, told him to quit or else be sacked and said he expected to appoint a new health minister. Babiš delivered his verdict on Prymula and one of his own closest allies, Jaroslav Faltýnek, the head of the parliamentary delegation of his Ano party, at a news conference on Friday in response to the restaurant visit.

“We can’t preach water and drink wine. I think that the minister should lead by example without further ado,” he said. “For that reason, I’ve asked the minister to resign. If he doesn’t, I’ll dismiss him. I’ve asked Mr Faltýnek to resign as first vice-president of the Ano movement. I’m very sorry, he apologised to everyone for that.”

Cases

At a brief news conference, Prymula however said he had no intention of resigning and had not violated any measures since he did not meet directly in the restaurant. His comments came after Prague city council announced it would launch “administrative proceedings” against him, Faltynek and the restaurant.

Prymula was pictured without a mask – also in breach of the rules – getting into his ministerial car beside an official driver after leaving the upmarket Rio’s restaurant in the Czech capital’s Vyšehrad district.

“Prymula literally laughs in the face of all those who accept his rules in a disciplined manner,” Blesk wrote in an accompanying article.

The damaging images appeared on Thursday, a day after the Czech Republic, with a population of 10.7 million, recorded 15,000 Covid cases, drawing a rare public apology from Babiš.

All restaurants, bars and pubs have been closed to indoor customers since last week in a government decree issued under a state of emergency introduced on 5 October and due to expire early next month but which has so far failed to stem the rising tide of Covid cases.

Prymula, 58, a reserve army colonel, took office last month with a brief to bring in tougher steps to halt a sharp reversal from the country’s relative success in controlling the pandemic’s the first wave, when it won praise for introducing an early lockdown that included regulations requiring mask-wearing in public places.

He has become renowned for stern public utterances containing pleas for the public to stay at home and show discipline to stop an escalating case load that he has warned is close to breaking the Czech health system.

The revelations prompted accusations of hypocrisy and demands, including from fellow ministers, for Prymula to resign, prompting Babiš to act.

On Thursday, there were a further 14,151 cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 133,995. Nearly 4,800 people were in hospital, 735 of them in critical condition.

A record 113 Covid-related deaths were recorded on Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 1,845.