The Czech Republic’s health minister is facing the sack after he was caught breaking his own coronavirus rules as the country faces the highest infection rate in Europe.
The Blesk tabloid daily said Health Minister Minister Roman Prymula was pictured leaving a restaurant without a mandatory mask covering his face on Wednesday night – just hours after imposing a new lockdown.
Restaurants, bars and schools are closed and masks are mandatory in most places in the Czech Republic amid tight restrictions put forward by Prymula himself in an effort to get the country’s spiralling coronavirus crisis under control.
Czech Health Minister Roman Prymula was photographed by the Blesk tabloid daily leaving a restaurant without wearing a mask in breach of his own coronavirus rules
A copy of Czech daily ‘Blesk’ shows pictures of Czech Health Minister Roman Prymula on its frontpage in Pargue leaving a restaurant without a mask after holding a meeting just hours after imposing new lockdown rules in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus
Prymula, 58, met with Jaroslav Faltynek, deputy head of the senior government ANO (YES) movement led by the country’s prime minister Andrej Babis, at the restaurant that appeared to be open exclusively to high-profile guests.
The health minister has became known for his stern public appeals for people to stay at home and follow the rules, drawing accusations of hypocrisy from fellow ministers.
Since the report came out, he has been under pressure to resign, with Babiš telling him to quit or else be sacked, and saying that he now expects to appoint a new health minister.
‘What happened today is an absolute disaster and an absolute shock for me,’ Babiš said. ‘We can’t preach water and drink wine. I think that the minister should lead by example without further ado.
‘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.’
In the photographs, Prymula was seen leaving the restaurant without a mandatory mask and getting into his ministerial car, his driver holding the door open for him.
The Health Ministry says daily confirmed cases reached 14,151 on Thursday, after the record of almost 15,000 the day earlier, in a country of 10.7 million people. The country has had 223,065 cases, about a third of them in the last seven days, while 1,845 people have died – 55 yesterday
Faltynek said he asked Prymula to meet to discuss an extraordinary parliament session that is set to approve a plan for NATO military medical personnel to come to the Czech Republic to help with the outbreak.
The health minister, however, said he had no intention of resigning at a brief news conference, and maintained that he had not violated any measures because he did not meet directly in the restaurant.
Instead, he insisted, the meeting had taken place in premises adjacent to the restaurant and that he only breached the mask duty for a split second.
‘I haven’t violated anything, and I’m not going to resign,’ he told reporters.
Prague city council had earlier announced it would launch ‘administrative proceedings’ against him, Faltýnek, and the upmarket restaurant in the Czech capital he was seen leaving.
The meeting took place just hours after Prymula announced the latest series of regulations, including a limit on movement and the closure of many stores.
The Czech Republic’s prime minister Andrej Babis, pictured in Brussels on October 16, has called on his health minister to resign, or else he will fire him
The Czech Republic and Belgium have the highest infection rates in Europe with cases rising across the continent in the second wave of the pandemic. Prymula was tasked with bringing the country’s spiralling cases under control, and introduced the new rules that he broke
The junior government coalition party, the Social Democrats, joined the opposition to demand Prymula’s resignation, calling his behaviour ‘absolutely unacceptable.’
‘The rules must be valid for everyone, without exception,’ Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, the head of the government’s crisis committee, said in a statement quoted by the CTK news agency.
Hamacek, who has Covid-19, is chairman of the left-wing Social Democratic Party. It forms the government with the Babis-led populist ANO movement that had nominated Prymula.
The Czech Republic has been facing record coronavirus infections that put the health system under pressure.
The Health Ministry says daily confirmed cases reached 14,151 on Thursday, after the record of almost 15,000 the day earlier, in a country of 10.7 million people.
The country has had 223,065 cases, about a third of them in the last seven days, while 1,845 people have died.
It now leads the EU in terms of new deaths and cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Restaurants, bars and schools are closed in the Czech Republic amid tight restrictions put forward by Prymula himself. Pictured: A man wearing a face mask carries his dog across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague
From October 5, a government decree issued a state of emergency amid the rising numbers and last week, all restaurants, bars and pubs were closed to all indoor customers.
The state of emergency is set to expire next month but has so far failed to contain the rising number of infections.
Prymula, a reserve army colonel, took office last month and was tasked with introducing tougher steps to contain Covid-19 after the country was relatively successful in doing so during the first wave in the spring.
Red alert: This map shows how cases are spiralling across Europe, with higher infection rates shown in darker red. The Czech Republic now leads the EU in terms of new deaths and cases per 100,000 inhabitants
Last Sunday, thousands of protesters including radical football fans upset with the restrictions demanded Prymula’s resignation at a rally in Prague.
Prymula is not the only government member to have drawn criticism during the coronavirus crisis.
Babis himself vacationed in Crete over the summer after urging Czechs to stay home, while Finance Minister Alena Schillerova raised eyebrows with her perfect hairstyles when all salons were closed during the first virus wave.