Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis appeared ready to fire his newly appointed health minister on Friday after he breached the country’s new, tighter coronavirus regulations.
On Thursday night, Roman Prymula was pictured leaving a restaurant and entering a car without a face mask in Prague’s Vysehrad district. Under the country’s physical distancing rules, masks must be worn inside closed restaurants and chauffeured cars.
It was Prymula himself who had imposed these rules just two days ago.
The Czech Republic has one of Europe’s highest per-capita infection rates, with more than 220,000 cases.
Babis said that if Prymula does not leave his post voluntarily, he will be dismissed.
“There are no excuses for this behaviour. We are asking people to stick to important restrictions at a time when health workers are fighting on the front line. This behaviour is unacceptable. If he does not resign, I am prepared to remove him from office,” he tweeted.
But Prymula said he had done no wrong.
“I did not do anything wrong and therefore I am not going to resign. If the PM wants me out, that is his call,” he told reporters on Friday.
His behaviour was also condemned by Prague mayor, Zdenek Hrib, who has called on Czechs to follow governmental restrictions, regardless of how top politicians behave.
“Apparently some think that they are more equal than others, but the rules apply to everyone, no matter their status. We cannot afford mistakes like this at a time of crisis,” he told Al Jazeera.
Prymula replaced Adam Vojtech on September 21, after Vojtech’s sudden resignation from office.
Prymula, often referred to as “colonel” due to his past military service, was expected to help ease the exponential growth of new cases by introducing stricter measures.
He was put into office after criticising the Czech government for relaxing restrictions throughout the summer, and not reintroducing face masks in early September.
The current death toll of 1,845 is expected to rise sharply over the next few weeks.
In response to this, the Czechs are strengthening their hospital capacity by building 500 new beds at a temporary field hospital in Letnany, Prague.
“I’m working with COVID-19 patients at a converted gynaecology unit in Prague’s Homolka hospital. The fact that we have to convert units and turn away patients in order to prioritise those with [coronavirus] speaks for itself,” said Dr Vojech Weiss.
Hrib, Prague’s mayor, is also set to volunteer in Prague hospitals next week.
“I hope to be a role model for citizens and front-line workers,” he said.
The government has agreed to receive medical help from NATO as well as neighbouring Germany.
President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had promised to help the country managing the continuing crisis.
“Czechia is going through hard times. The number of coronavirus cases is rising. Hospitals need medical equipment. The EU is here to help,” she tweeted yesterday.
The bloc will send 30 ventilators to Czechia from EU reserves and more will come if needed, she said.