Slovakia health minister resigns over Russian vaccine controversy

Marek Krajci’s resignation was requested after coalition partners disagreed with his decision to acquire Sputnik V.

Marek Krajci, left, has been under fire for his handling of the pandemic [File: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters]

Slovakia’s health minister announced his resignation on Thursday in a deal to defuse a political crisis over the acquisition of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, which had threatened to topple the coalition government.

Marek Krajci’s resignation was requested by two parties in the four-party coalition in a country that has been among the hardest-hit by COVID-19 in the European Union.

“Two coalition parties made my resignation a condition for them to stay in the coalition. In such a situation, I think there was no point arguing … I am not glued to my seat [at the ministry],” Krajci told a televised briefing.

Krajci was been under fire for his handling of the pandemic.

“The man [Krajci] standing next to me sought to protect health and lives with every decision he made. Unfortunately, those who put obstacles in his way made him their target,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic told the same briefing.

Russia’s Sputnik V

Matovic, leader of the governing Ordinary People party, called his resignation a “painful” but correct decision because it prevented “a collapse of the government and early elections”. It was not immediately clear who will replace Krajci.

The crisis was triggered last week by a secret deal to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, orchestrated by Matovic despite disagreement among his coalition partners.

Matovic has defended the deal to buy two million Sputnik V vaccine doses, saying it will speed up the vaccination programme.

But the Freedom and Solidarity coalition party said the purchase cast doubts on the country’s clear pro-Western orientation. The party joined forces with another coalition partner, For People party, to demand a reconstruction of the government.

For People said any vaccine needs approval from the EU’s drug regulator, which has not happened with Sputnik V.

The parties often clashed with Matovic over how to tackle the pandemic before but the current crisis was the most serious the coalition has faced.

High death rate

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, has had the world’s second-highest per capita death rate in the past week, according to Our World in Data’s website, after the neighbouring Czech Republic.

Hospitals have been pushed to the limits of their capacity as the number of cases reached 568 per 100,000 people in the past two weeks, four times higher than in Germany, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows.

With the hospitals filled up with COVID-19 patients, the country asked other EU nations to send medical personnel to help.

Three doctors and five nurses from Denmark and two doctors and a nurse from Belgium were expected to arrive on Friday to work at the FD Roosevelt University Hospital in the central city of Banska Bystrica.

A team of 14 doctors and nurses from Romania have been already working in Slovakia.

Populist Matovic struck a deal a year ago to govern with the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party, the conservative For People, and We Are Family, a populist right-wing group allied with France’s far-right National Rally party.

Source: News Agencies