Czech morning news in brief: Top stories for Dec. 1, 2020

Healthcare agreement between Britain and the Czech Republic ends, possible new powers for Health Ministry, EC report confirms Babis' conflict of interest. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 01.12.2020 07:23:00 (updated on 01.12.2020) Reading time: 5 minutes

Top news stories for Dec. 1, 2020, compiled by CTK

Blanket coronavirus vaccination may cost CZK 5 billion

COVID – The coronavirus vaccination for all Czechs may cost the government up to CZK 5 billion if two doses are needed, under the bill that is to enable the payment of the vaccination from the public health insurance system, which is being discussed by the government. The state is mandated to buy the vaccine according to an EU agreement. The Czech Republic has ordered CZK 1.7 billion worth of vaccines thus far, but the sum will rise depending on further orders. Last week, Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) said orders from three manufacturers for 5.5 million inhabitants had been arranged, with further orders for the rest of the 10.6 million population to follow. The costs of the distribution of the vaccine to the vaccination centers, as well as storage, are not yet known, with some estimates putting it at tens of millions of crowns.

Britain and the Czech Republic to end bilateral healthcare agreement

HEALTHCARE – The agreement on cooperation in medicine and healthcare between the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom that guaranteed free treatment of citizens from both countries for decades will come to an end on December 31, the government website reported. The draft tabled by the Healthcare and Foreign Ministries was approved by the government Monday. The ruling coalition agreed to terminate the agreement back in June, but the UK did not reciprocate. Since the Czech Republic joined the EU, the original agreement was not used, since urgent healthcare was provided for all EU citizens and both countries were members. However, the agreement came into force again after the United Kingdom left the EU in January. Currently, over 100,000 Czech citizens stay long-term or permanently in the UK, the ministry said. In addition, around 300,000 Czechs visit the UK every year, according to unofficial British statistics. Available data show that over 3,820 British nationals used the Czech healthcare system, amounting to CZK 23 million, while only 702 Czech people were treated in the United Kingdom, costing CZK 13.5 million. Nevertheless, these numbers do not take into account self-payers and those who asked for compensation after the arrival back to their home country. It is estimated that the total numbers might vary from 12,000 to 18,500 British nationals.

New law to give central public health office more powers

POLITICS - A draft amendment to the law on the protection of public health, which the Health Ministry has prepared and the Government Office has released, centralizes the regional public health offices under the State Public Health Office that is given more powers. Under the amendment, the State Public Health Office will be headed by the chief public health officer, who is deputy health minister, and have the right to close or limit the operation of schools, shops, services and traveling, as well as limit public transport services in a way similar to the present restrictions and limitations, that could be introduced to slow down the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, without the Parliament approving a nationwide state of emergency. The Reconstruction of State civic group has criticized the amendment, saying it would give stronger powers to the Health Ministry, primarily the deputy health minister who is the chief public health officer.

EC report confirms Babis' conflict of interest as PM

EC INVESTIGATION - The conclusions of the European Commission's audit confirm Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis's conflict of interest, EC representatives told EP committee members yesterday, several MEPs have said. The Czech version of the report is to be sent from Brussels to Prague in January. Babis has denied the allegations. The Regional Development Ministry has been trying to convince the EC that Babis has resolved his conflicts by transferring his Agrofert holding to trust funds. "The report is final, definitively saying that Andrej Babis has a conflict of interest," MEP Tomas Zdechovsky (KDU-CSL) said. The information was confirmed by another MEP who took part in today's closed hearing of the same committee. The EC also said that it would not pay any subsidies to firms associated with Agrofert since summer 2018, when stricter EU rules for the conflict of interest took effect, Zdechovsky said. Based on the conclusions of the preliminary audit report, discussed by Czech authorities and the EC over the past year, the Czech Republic may have to return about CZK 450 million to the EU budget.

Saab to continue support for ARTHUR radar systems in the Czech Republic

MILITARY - Saab will continue to provide logistical support for the Czech military's Artillery Radar Systems (ARTHUR) and the Defense Ministry wants to sign another two-year service agreement worth CZK 65 million this year, ministry press spokesman Jakub Fajnor told CTK. The service agreement is to specify regular quarterly maintenance to be carried out by the supplier. "The aim is to keep the systems fully operable during our agreement period," Fajnor said. The estimated value of the contract is calculated based on four previous contracts between 2009 and 2020. Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar (ANO) presented the contract at a recent government meeting. The mobile radio location and detection system ARTHUR (Artillery Hunting Radar) was developed by the Swedish Ericsson Company in the 1990s. It searches for airborne artillery shells, tracks their trajectories for several seconds and, based on data received, provides not only the location of the shell’s impact, but also the location from which it was fired. Thus, the system allows its operators to warn people in potential impact areas and advise them to hide in shelters. Subsequently, they can fire back at the enemy.

Three giant otters born in Zlin zoo

ENVIRONMENT - The Zlin Zoo has been nurturing three baby giant otters that were born in late October, but their breeding is extremely demanding and the death rate among newborns is high, zoo spokeswoman Romana Bujackova told CTK. The 22 zoos across Europe that keep the giant otters, have managed to nurture only 16 baby otters after birth. In the Czech Republic, only the Zlin zoo that has them, Bujackova said. The zoo joined the European Rescue Program for otters in 2012 when they were given the first two of the rare species, she added. Giant otters are native to the Amazon rainforest. Even though they eat mainly freshwater fish, they are able to catch also caimans, turtles and anacondas. They are the noisiest and the most sociable of all otter species, commonly living in groups of up to eight animals, made up by the parent couple and their offspring, Bujackova said. Adult otters can weight up to 30 kg and measure between 100 and 130 cm.

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