Czech morning news in brief: Top stories for Dec. 10, 2020

Govt. extends state of emergency, big fines for businesses violating COVID restrictions, first child dies from COVID, Slovakia locks down again. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 10.12.2020 08:19:00 (updated on 10.12.2020) Reading time: 6 minutes

Government extends state of emergency until Dec. 23

Last night, the Chamber of Deputies agreed to extend the current state of emergency by 11 days, until Dec. 23. The cabinet of ANO and CSSD had wanted another 30 days, but the communist party, KSČM, proposed a lesser number, and in the end joined with the minority government to push through the vote. The cabinet will decide on a further extension of the state of emergency on Thursday morning.

This is the third time the Chamber of Deputies has had to vote on an extension to the state of emergency the government has put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of October, the lower house agreed to extend the state of emergency by 17 days and in the second half of November by 22 days.

In the spring, the state of emergency in the Czech Republic lasted 66 days, with the new extension, the current one will total 79 days.

According to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), the extension of the state of emergency until January 11, which was requested by the government, is necessary due to nationwide measures against the coronavirus pandemic. The goal is not to repress the population, but to protect it, the prime minister told deputies today.

According to him, the current situation, with a slight increase in the number of patients with COVID-19 and the number of deaths from coronavirus, will probably not change until Christmas. Babiš accused the opposition of wanting to cause chaos by refusing to prolong the state of emergency and endangering the lives of citizens.

Up to CZK 3 million fine for violation COVID restrictions, medical students required to help fight pandemic

According to a new draft bill passed by the Chamber of Deputies yesterday, entrepreneurs and firms will be bound to observe the government's business-related coronavirus restrictions and could face fines of up to CZK 3 million if found in violation, based on the bill, which is yet to be discussed in the Senate.

The Chamber passed the government-sponsored draft amendment to the crisis law during an emergency meeting, despite the opposition's protest against it. The Chamber rejected opposition TOP 09 MP Dominik Feri's proposal to lower the maximum fine to CZK 2.5 million.

The proposal of the lower house security committee, raising the maximum fine for individuals who violate COVID restrictions from CZK 20,000 crowns to 50,000, was deleted from the bill.

However, Feri pushed through a new rule concerning work duty imposed on medical students, amid the coronavirus crisis. The bill designates that regional governors may impose work duty on them only with the consent of the education minister, until now, this was not needed.

According to the government, the Czech Republic still lacks a law to allow officials to fine entrepreneurs and firms for violating restrictions that the government has declared based on the crisis law. This "crucially influences the tackling of the crisis situation," according to the draft amendment.

It also addresses the failure to observe restrictions by catering facilities, mainly restaurants and bars. "The goal of the draft is no additional restrictions or building of a police state," said Interior Minister Jan Hamacek (CSSD). He said the bill aims to remedy the current situation where only measures that were introduced based on the public health protection law can be enforced and fines issued.

Cabinet to modify anti-COVID ban on take-away beer sale

The Czech cabinet will change its recent decision that bans people from taking beer from restaurants to their homes in a jug or a plastic bottle, Health Minister Jan Blatny said in parliament today, emphasizing that this was not the cabinet's aim when banning the take-away alcohol sale.

This "regrettable affair" will be put right in 24 hours, Blatny (ANO) said. He said the original goal of the measure, which the cabinet approved on Monday, was to restrict the consumption of alcohol in public places.

The government directive bans the sale of alcoholic beverages to customers by restaurants and bars outside their establishments. "It was definitely not the cabinet's intention to ban the take-away sale of beer if people want to drink it at home," PM Andrej Babis (ANO) tweeted.

Blatny also said that if the Czech Republic, faced with a new increase in infections, switched back to the tougher fourth PES alert level, the government would put in place equal conditions for small retailers and big retail chains.

The opposition said it was discriminatory that small shops had to stay closed, unlike retail chains, amid the lockdown restrictions that were in force during the fourth PES alert level for several weeks until December 2.

First child with coronavirus dies in the Czech Republic

A baby from Liberec has died from COVID-19. This is the first child in the Czech Republic to die from the disease, according to the Ministry of Health.

According to the ministry, it was a girl and is the very first death in the age group up to 14 years. Detailed statistics published by the state office reveal that the child did not live to see her first birthday. It is not clear how she became infected or if she had any other health complications.

So far, two young people infected with coronavirus have died in the Czech Republic. In both cases, they were men in the age group of 15-24 years. Twelve people have died in the 25-34 age group so far.

Opposition proposes change to the PES system

The expert team of the Czech opposition Civic Democrats (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and TOP 09 has prepared an alternative PES pandemic five-level risk assessment system that does not require a state of emergency at the lower levels, TOP 09 MP Dominik Feri told a press conference yesterday.

The "anti-COVID" team wants to present the alternative system to Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO).

According to the current system created by the Health Ministry, even at the lowest PES level, a state of emergency is required. The opposition has added a zero level to the system. For the first two levels, the state of emergency would not be necessary. Level three would require it only if at least two thirds of Czech regions fall to this level.

Such PES changes would enable regional public health offices and the ministry to apply local measures instead of nationwide restrictions, Feri said. Furthermore, they would not be bound to the crisis law, but by the law on the protection of public health.

The proposal does not discriminate against retail shops as it avoids scenarios when shopping centers may be open, but small shops can't, Feri added. The opposition PES scheme also introduces transition levels applicable if the risk score varies between two levels.

For some time, the PES score had remained at 57. However, it rose to 62 on Sunday and since Monday, it has increased to 64.

Slovakia locks down again

Slovakia will tighten its COVID restrictions, closing most shops for three weeks as of December 21, banning the serving of meals at pub terraces as of Friday and forcing hotels and ski centers to require negative COVID tests from visitors starting Monday, government officials said yesterday.

At the end of December, big companies will launch regular testing of their staff and only stores with essential goods will remain open. A similar measure was introduced amid the first coronavirus wave in the spring.

Unlike during the Easter holiday, the government said it will not restrict traveling during Christmas. PM Igor Matovic said the above restrictions might gradually soften after three weeks in the regions where the epidemiological situation would allow it.

The Christmas school holidays in the country will start on December 21. At present, most schools operate a distance learning regime, except for kindergartens and elementary schools, which allow only 1st - 5th graders in class.

People staying in hotels and ski centers will need a negative coronavirus test not older than 72 hours, the government officials and the chief public health officer told media.

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