Czechs reappoint old health minister after losing four in eight months

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People light candles to commemorate COVID-19 victims in Prague

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Health Minister Petr Arenberger resigned on Tuesday after less than two months in office after coming under media scrutiny over property holdings and other business dealings, becoming the fourth health minister to exit in eight months.

His portfolio, in a country that has suffered one of the world's highest per capita coronavirus infection rates, is going back to Adam Vojtech, who last September when the epidemic situation deteriorated sharply after a summer of relaxed restrictions.

With four months to go until an election, the opposition said Prime Minister Andrej Babis's personnel policy was chaotic, and resembled the medieval Astronomical Clock in Prague's Old Town Square, which shows rotating statues of saints every hour.

Vojtech was replaced last year by an epidemiologist and reserve army colonel - who quit after being caught breaking pandemic restrictions by visiting a restaurant.

Another minister was forced out after disagreements with Babis and under pressure from President Milos Zeman, who had unsuccessfully demanded that the government buy the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Arenberger was a Prague hospital director before joining the government on April 7, when the Czech Republic was emerging from its worst COVID-19 wave to date.

Daily infections have slowed sharply, from peaks of around 17,000 in January and March to the 695 reported on Monday.

Vaccinations in the country of 10.7 million have accelerated to over 80,000 each weekday, and shops and restaurant terraces have reopened amid a gradual easing of restrictions.

Arenberger quit after pressure from media reports about the number of properties he owned, one of which was rented to the hospital that he had led. He had also faced scrutiny over clinical trials at his private clinic and the privatisation of a downtown Prague apartment.

He has denied wrongdoing. On Tuesday he said an incorrectly completed asset declaration had probably triggered speculation.

The Czech Republic has the second highest per capita death toll in the world from the new coronavirus, according to Our World in Data. As of Tuesday, 30,041 were registered as having died of COVID-19.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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