Czech morning news in brief: Top stories for Dec. 4, 2020

PM 'promises' not to limit personal freedoms with new law, Czechs stop own vaccine development, National Library can't open due to server failure. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 04.12.2020 07:53:00 (updated on 04.12.2020) Reading time: 5 minutes

Limits to freedom not to be allowed - Babis on enhanced power

The Health Ministry made a mistake when it gave to the government a draft amendment to a law enhancing the public health offices' power, PM Andrej Babis (ANO) said during question time in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday.

The draft on public health protection was criticized by some experts and opposition members.

"There are some things we will never back, such as limits to individual freedom, monitoring of citizens and so on," Babis replied to questions put forward by Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) MP Marek Vyborny.

If the draft is approved, a new office, more powerful than the Health Ministry and the government in total, would be created, Babis said.

"It is a clear fault of the Health Ministry. They should not have released it at all," reacting to Tricolour MP Zuzana Majerova Zahradnikova's question regarding the draft which would limit freedoms. However, he refuted the comparison to that of totalitarian practices.

Babis indirectly supported Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO), saying that he is new to the office and has been dealing with the coronavirus crisis. The document, widely criticized by MPs and in the media, concerns personal data, as it stipulates that public health officers may ask mobile operators for data about confirmed COVID-19 positive people and places where they stayed for more than 20 minutes over a time-span of three weeks, without consent of the user. Currently, the officers may use such information only upon the consent of the mobile phone user.

Czech Republic halts own vaccine development, no reason to go on says Blatny

There is no reason to continue the development of a Czech COVID-19 vaccine now that a commercial vaccine will be available soon, Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) said today, announcing a halt to the project, which he called a success and cost taxpayers CZK 4.3 million.

In May, former Minister of Health Roman Prymula told CTK that most of the world's teams are taking a different path in developing the vaccine than the Czech team. The team was working on a vaccine which utilizes an inactive or dead virus, instead of the mRNA vaccine, being widely developed now, which selects cells and inserts a 'spike protein' that elicits an immune response and inserts the genetic information of the virus into them.

"The Czech Republic has a team of experts that is capable of successfully completing the first phase of the new vaccine development in a very short time. Nevertheless, a commercial vaccine will be available soon, which is why there is no reason to continue the [Czech] project," Blatny told a press conference.

"A vaccine has been developed [in the Czech Republic] that is capable of provoking immunity response in a mouse model. This was the task of the vaccine and it has fulfilled it," Blatny said.

The Czech research team will be kept on alert in case it is needed again. It includes experts from the State Health Institute, the Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion and the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine.

The project's scientific guarantor Marek Petras said the preparation of the project started in March, two months before it was presented to the public, and the first phase of the vaccine development was completed in late September.

A further CZK 150 million and six to 12 months would be needed to complete the final project before testing could begin, Petras said.

Some 5.5. million Czechs to be COVID vaccinated

Some 5.5 million of 10.7 million Czechs are to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of summer 2021, Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) told the Chamber of Deputies yesterday. Blatny said he wanted to unveil the vaccination strategy to the government on Monday.

"If everything runs as planned, the vaccination of roughly 5.5 million people or about 60-70 percent of the adult population is to be finished by the end of next summer," he added. So far, the government has ensured vaccination for 5.5 million people, having set aside CZK 3.4 billion in total for the project.

So far, no vaccine has been officially approved in the EU. Due to this, the Czech Republic is ordering it from several different manufacturers. The government is ready to pay up to CZK 5 billion for the vaccination of Czechs if two doses are needed.

Blatny has confirmed that under the strategy, people suffering from chronic diseases, the elderly, health personnel and workers in the critical state infrastructure will be given precedence.

National Library not re-opening yet due to server failure

The National Library (NK) in Prague will not open to the public yet due to an extensive collapse of its server, and it plans to reopen later, spokeswoman Irena Manakova told CTK. Consequently, the deadlines for returning books are automatically extended and readers need not fear possible fines.

Libraries along with other public facilities have been closed due to government lockdown measures since October 22. After the country was downgraded from the fifth PES level to the fourth, people could pick up reserved books in "open windows" at libraries, but the NK did not offer this service after consultations with public health officers.

When it finally opens its doors, the NK will still have to limit the number of visitors to meet 15 square meter per person restriction and people must keep a two-meter distance from each other.

Protesters against coal mining bring traffic to a standstill in Prague 10

Yesterday, activists paralyzed traffic in the Vršovice district of Prague by blocking a pedestrian crossing near the building of the Ministry of the Environment. Rush hour traffic quickly came to a standstill with traffic backed up leading to the Želivského crossroads and in the direction of Kubánské náměstí.

The police quickly intervened on the spot and within minutes, traffic was moving again.

Since November, Fridays For Future Czech Republic has been protesting for a significant shortening of the deadline for the decline in coal use in the Czech Republic. Activists disagree with the proposed later date, with plans to end its use in 2033, 2038 and 2043 respectively.

"This Friday, December 4, the government's coal commission will decide on the phase-out of coal in the Czech Republic. According to media information, it is going to approve it for 2038, or an even later date. To avoid the worst effects of climate crisis, such as a long drought, we must end coal use within the next ten years,” said a protest organizer for Fridays For Future Czech Republic.

However, the commission will probably not decide on the date at all. The date of the phase-out is linked to the new nuclear unit at the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant. According to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the tender for its construction could eventually be postponed, and thus the planned phase-out plans would be postponed.

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