Czech morning news in brief: Top stories for Dec. 2, 2020

COVID vaccine to be available soon, feminine hygiene products could be cheaper next year, and Czechs write letters to support prisoners of conscience Staff

Written by Staff Published on 02.12.2020 10:09:00 (updated on 02.12.2020) Reading time: 7 minutes

Top news stories for Dec. 2, 2020, compiled by CTK

COVID-19 vaccine may be available soon - health minister

COVID – The first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines may be available at the end of January or beginning of February in the Czech Republic, Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) told the Chamber of Deputies health committee yesterday. Blatny said the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is to approve them in the first half of January. On Monday, U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, along with German BioNTech and the U.S. company Moderna requested approval for use of their vaccines in Europe. "The soonest the EMA can decide on this is December 15," Blatny said, adding that this early date was highly unlikely. "We'd better count on this happening somewhere in the first half of January, if everything runs smoothly. The vaccines may be available at the end of January or beginning of February," Blatny said. "They have been produced, but they cannot be distributed until they are approved," he added. He repeated that the vaccine would be covered by people's public health insurance plans and that the vaccination would not be mandatory. A blanket vaccination may cost up to CZK 5 billion. One dose from various manufacturers will cost anywhere from CZK 50 to CZK 260, with some people having to be vaccinated twice. Compared with other vaccines, the price is extremely low, Blatny said.

Finance Ministry to propose lower VAT on feminine hygiene products

HEALTH – Czech Finance Minister Alena Schillerova (ANO) will propose a lower VAT on feminine hygiene products, and if approved, pads, tampons and other products will be moved from the basic 21 percent to the lower 10 percent VAT rate, the Ministry said in a press release yesterday. Currently the lower VAT rate is used for drugs and baby food. The ministry puts the cost of the lower VAT at CZK 300 million per year. Responding to Scotland's decision to provide these products for free, Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) asked Schillerova to increase accessibility for people to the products. Last week, Babis tweeted a similar step, providing free products, may be possible for low-income groups in the Czech Republic. Scotland, which has roughly one-half of the population of the Czech Republic, estimated the costs of free feminine hygiene products at 9.7 million pounds a year. The Finance Ministry wants to have the new VAT rate introduced through an amendment to the VAT law now being debated by the Chamber of Deputies. As a result, the products may be cheaper starting next spring.

The Czech Republic quarantined 68,400 people in November

COVID – Over 68,400 people were confined to quarantine in November, the second highest monthly figure since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in March, while GPs issued 295,400 sick notes in the past nine months, according to the data released by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry yesterday. On November 30, 18,749 Czechs were in quarantine, a similar number as was during the first wave of the pandemic on March 18. As far as the second wave is concerned, October 7 saw a similar number. At the peak of the first wave before the end of March, some 22,400 people had to stay home and since then, their numbers have dropped, slightly rising only right after weekends and public holidays. The high March figures were reached again in early November when strict anti-coronavirus restrictions took place and the government declared the state of emergency, which has been extended until December 12. The total quarantine record high of nearly 54,800 people was hit on October 30.

Firms seeking COVID subsidies may have to reveal company owners

ECONOMY – Companies applying for subsidies or public financial support will be obliged to release the data on their real owners, but authorities will not have to verify them, under an amendment to the money laundering law that the Chamber of Deputies passed yesterday. MPs rejected the Senate-proposed changes to the amendment. It has been sent to President Milos Zeman to sign into law. Under the amendment, the subsidy or support provider needs to track down the owner of the company, in the case of foreign owners, evidence will have to be shown by the applicant for the subsidy. If the real owners cannot be identified, authorities will not provide public support to the company. Senators wanted to push through the obligatory verification of real owners however, critics of this proposal argue that this would increase the administrative burden of associations and small municipalities. Due to EU rules, the bill should address real estate agents and trustees as well. But it also concerns purchases in antique shops, as it requires the identification of the buyer of an item of the value above 1,000 euros.


Czechs write letters to support prisoners of conscience

HUMAN RIGHTS – Nearly 700 individuals and organizations in the Czech Republic joined the 10th annual worldwide Write for Rights project, put on by Amnesty International (AI) yesterday, writing letters in support of the wrongly convicted, campaign organizer Zaneta Sladka told CTK. As deputies for TOP 09, Civic Democrats (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), Pirates and Social Democrats (CSSD) backed the project; letters will be written in the lower house of Czech parliament, too. "The purpose of this event is to exert international pressure via handwritten letters on the states that violate human rights," Sladka said. The letters from individuals and organizations are addressed to representatives of the countries in question. Globally, over seven million letters were sent last year, she said, adding that it led, for instance, to Iranian human rights activist Yasaman Aryani seeing her sentence cut in half. The event was supported by representatives of most parties in the lower house and the AI letters will be written there for the fourth time. "We are very happy that the event can unite the Czech public across the political spectrum in attempt to help others," Sladka said. This year, the event has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, the traditional gala evening held around Human Rights Day on December 10 has been cancelled, she added.

Zeman plans to veto tax package over increased tax credit

BUDGET – President Milos Zeman told Finance Minister Alena Schillerova (ANO) today that he will veto the tax package abolishing the super-gross wage because the increase in the basic income tax credit was added to it, spokesman Jiri Ovcacek has said on Twitter. Zeman is also unhappy that the tax package does not specify that the super-gross wage abolition and the introduction of 15 and 23 percent individual income tax rates will stay in force for only two years, as he was promised. Two weeks ago, the Chamber of Deputies passed the government tax package, with an increase in the basic tax rate from the current CZK 24,840 per taxpayer to CZK 34,125 in 2021. Next year, tax revenue is expected to decrease by about CZK 130 billion as a result. The abolition of a higher basic income tax credit per taxpayer and of the limitation of the tax changes for two years is now in the hands of the Senate, Schillerova told reporters in reaction to Zeman's words. She also pointed out that in his speech in the Chamber of Deputies during the debate on the state budget bill, Zeman said he would apply his veto right if the tax credit per taxpayer were raised. "At the moment, I can do nothing but present it in the Senate. It is in the hands of senators," she said, adding that the two-year validity of the tax is another problem that senators need to tackle. Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) proposed senators abolish the higher tax credit as well and proposed to compensate municipalities and self-rule regions for the drop in revenue. The Senate is to deal with the tax package on December 10.

STAN calls on environment minister to resign over river spill

ENVIRONMENT – The opposition Mayors and Independents (STAN) called on Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec (ANO) to step down over the poisoning of the Becva River, North Moravia, in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday. STAN deputy chairman Petr Gazdik said Brabec had either failed in his duties, or he was covering up for a private firm, but he did not act as an environment minister should. Besides, the Czech Environmental Inspectorate (CIZP) failed as well, Gazdik said. "The case has crossed the bounds of an ecological disaster, having also become a failure of institutions of the democratic state," Gazdik said. Based on the story the daily Denik Referendum broke, Brabec should resign. "Either him and his ministry have failed or he is covering up a private firm which polluted the Becva River, causing an ecological disaster," Gazdik said. In the case of Brabec, both options are tragic. "In this case, institutions of the democratic state are evidently failing. There is a suspicion that there is a conflict of interest of Brabec as a former employee of the Agrofert holding," he added. On Monday, Denik Referendum wrote that an accident occurred in the Deza chemical plant in Valasske Mezirici, north Moravia, on the day when the Becva River was poisoned. Deza is part of Agrofert, formerly owned by Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) and transferred to trust funds. After the spill, Deza denied having polluted the river. The CIZP, too, ruled it out as the originator of the leak.

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