Czech morning news in brief: Top stories for Dec. 9, 2020

Govt. to vote on state of emergency, MPs say they will take COVID vaccine, no decision on ski resorts yet, Czech Roma should be integrated, LGBT protected.

Expats.cz

Written by Expats.cz
Published on 09.12.2020 08:00 (updated on 09.12.2020)

Top news stories for Dec. 9, 2020, compiled by CTK

Govt. meets today, will decide on state of emergency extension

The Czech cabinet will meet this morning to decide on extending the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cabinet spokesman Vladimir Vorechovsky told CTK yesterday.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) will take part in an European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. But after the cabinet meeting on Thursday, Babis wants to attend an upper house session on a controversial tax package. His departure for Brussels may be postponed due to it and thus, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki may represent him there instead, Vorechovsky said.

"I will be in the Senate because of the tax package as long as it is needed. Even if the Polish Prime Minister has to represent me in Brussels. But I hope the debate will be constructive and pragmatic," Babis said on Twitter. The EU summit is to deal with the budget framework and the EU recovery fund.

The nationwide state of emergency will expire on December 12. The minority government of the ANO movement and the Social Democrats (CSSD) wants to extend it by 30 days, but it has not won sufficient support for this in the Chamber of Deputies yet. The government already asked for a 30-day extension twice this autumn, and the Chamber extended the state of emergency by 17 days in October and by 22 days in November. The current state of emergency has lasted 65 days so far.

Czechs reluctant to test for COVID, so say scientists

Czechs are reluctant to get tested for COVID-19 and unwilling to report all their contacts to public health officers, experts from the Centre for Modelling of Biological and Social Processes (BISOP) have said, arguing that these factors contribute to the stagnating pandemic situation.

Last week's relaxation of measures will lead to a rise in the number of risk contacts, subsequently requiring a switch to tougher levels of the PES epidemic system, BISOP head Rene Levinsky and other PES co-authors said. They also criticize the change in the method for calculating positive tests into the PES system.

"The drop in the pandemic stopped and unfortunately, we come back to another rise in cases which manifests first in the R number index and the rise in positivity," PES co-author Jan Kulveit wrote on Facebook.

The five-degree PES system assesses the coronavirus pandemic situation based on four criteria – the reproduction (R) number, positivity, which is the percentage of the infected among the tested in the past seven days and the number of the infected per 100,000 inhabitants in general and among the senior population. Anti-coronavirus measures are thus relaxed or tightened accordingly.

Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) previously said that the five-level system of risk and alert introduced in mid-November is neither an automatic tool nor the only factor that comes to play when decisions are taken.

The Czech Republic is currently at the fourth PES level for a third day in a row, but the ministry does not plan any blanket tightening of restrictions, which correspond to the third level of risk, for now. However, it did cut back restaurant opening hours as of Wednesday.

"It seems that the government plans to reinvent the risk index so that it shows a lower figure," Kulveit added, arguing that according to the PES system, a tightening of restrictions should follow now that the existing measures do not work.

Education minister calls on teachers to get tested for COVID

Czech Education Minister Robert Plaga (ANO) called on teachers to use the opportunity to undergo free antigen tests for the coronavirus in view of the worsening pandemic situation in the country, he said at a ministry press conference yesterday. The more people participate in the antigen testing, the higher the influence on the improvement of the pandemic development will be, Plaga said.

He refused to assess the teachers' interest in the testing so far. He reminded that they can get tested for free.

Unlike the commonly used PCR tests, the cheaper antigen tests do not have to be evaluated in laboratories and give fast results, but they are less precise. They are quite reliable in detecting people who are infectious. Antigen testing of teachers was launched at sampling centers in hospitals and other healthcare facilities last Friday.

Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) said this would cost around CZK 70 million and would be covered from individual's health insurance.

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The testing may apply to some 200,000 teachers and other pedagogic staff. However, they have shown a rather low interest in it. About one-third of them want to undergo antigen tests, according to information from the regions.

When it comes to vaccination, the government plans to lead by example

The vaccine will be a significant milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to officials, it is important that more than half of the population get vaccinated in order for it to be effective. Vaccination will be voluntary and covered by public health insurance.

The Ministry of Health will try to attract citizens to vaccination centers with an awareness campaign, and most members of the government want to lead by example. Minister of Health Jan Blatný (ANO) told the press: “I expect to get vaccinated. And I'll be happy to get the shot. "

Due to earlier health problems, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (YES) and Minister of Agriculture Miroslav Toman (CSSD) are not decided yet on getting the shot. President Milos Zeman will decide "when the time comes".

The cabinet has long spoken of the vaccine as a light at the end of the tunnel, which, with the massive vaccination of the population, will make it possible to avoid further closing of the economy. But many citizens want to be vaccinated only after members of the government do so.

Govt. puts off decision on opening ski resorts

The government still has not decoded on when ski resorts can open in the Czech Republic. The current pandemic situation does not yet allow this decision to be taken, Minister of Health Jan Blatny (ANO) said at a press conference after the government meeting.

The opening date of ski resorts in the Czech Republic is still unclear. "The situation does not allow a decision," said Blatny in a press conference Monday.

Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlicek (ANO) added that a rules for the operation of winter resorts will not be published yet. Blatny said last Friday that ski resorts in the Czech Republic should open from 18 December.

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"I withdrew this proposal from the government meeting, so it has not been discussed yet," Havlicek said on Monday. According to him, the rules for the operation of winter resorts have been prepared, and ski resort operators have been consulted. However, it will not be published until there is a clear date when the ski resorts will be able to open.

In Europe, the operation of ski resorts has been hotly debated in recent weeks. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced last week that the ski slopes in Italy will remain closed until January 7. The intention to leave ski resorts closed during the Christmas holidays was also supported by France.

Austria will open ski resorts from Christmas Day. However, a mandatory ten-day quarantine after entering the country awaits tourists from high-risk areas, like the Czech Republic.

Czech Roma should be integrated, LGBT protected - ECRI

According to a recent report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), Czech authorities should put an end to all forms of segregation of Roma children in schools and create a strategy to help uncover discrimination against LGBT people.

The report focused on the situation in the Czech Republic. "The ECRI welcomes a number of positive developments, such as the continued work of the Public Defender of Rights in promoting equality and combatting racism. It praises the conversion of the site of the former Roma concentration camp in Lety into a documentation and information center on the Roma genocide during World War II," the ECRI report said.

"The ECRI also highlights promising practices in the field of inclusive education - such as those in Trmice primary school in Usti nad Labem - and in supporting municipalities to improve the situation of socially excluded localities, often inhabited by Roma," it added.

"However, the report also identifies shortcomings in several areas. The authorities have not yet adopted a national strategy or action plan to address discrimination and intolerance against LGBTI people, nor carried out any research about the discrimination they may suffer. Although the Czech Republic introduced same-sex registered partnerships in 2006 some inequalities persist, such as widower’s pensions and allowances." the ECRI said.

"Another concern is that transgender people are obligated to undergo gender reassignment and sterilization in order to be able to officially change their names, which is contrary to European Court of Human Rights case law. ECRI recommends amending the provisions in the Civil Code and the Health Services Act to remove sterilization as a pre-condition to obtain legal recognition in the chosen gender," it added.

RAF veteran Lom returns medal to Zeman in anger

British Royal Air Force (RAF) veteran Tomas Lom has returned a commemorative letter to President Milos Zeman he received on the anniversary of Czechoslovakia's liberation. He said that Zeman behaves like a traitor to the benefit of the Czech Republic's adversaries, he wrote on Facebook.

Lom told CTK that he was brought up in the tradition of the first Czechoslovak president, Masaryk, to fight for the country and for truth. He said it bothered him that Zeman keeps pandering to Russia and China.

Zeman's spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said Lom had wronged Zeman. During World War Two, Lom, born in 1924, fought in the RAF.

"I believe that given your increasingly apparent activities, which seem to me treasonous, to the benefit of the Czech Republic's adversaries, it does not make sense just for you to send commemorative letters on the anniversary of 'Czechoslovakia's liberation' to the people who risked their lives for motherland," Lom wrote to Zeman.

He added that due to this, he could not accept the letter. Ovcacek told CTK that the commemorative letter expressed Zeman's respect for veterans. "Mr Lom has wronged the president," Ovcacek said.

Zrzavy's Fantastic Landscape sells for author's record price

Fantastic Landscape, an oil painting by Czech painter Jan Zrzavy (1890-1977) was sold for CZK 28.08 million crowns at auction on Sunday, which is the record highest price for Zrzavy's work ever, Adela Hansen from the Ustar Gallery auction house which organized the auction, told CTK.

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So far, the most expensive Zrzavy work was Sleeping Boy, which sold for roughly CZK 19.3 million (including fees) at action in London in 2013. On Thursday, Czech Hejtmanek Arthouse auction house will offer another Zrzavy's work, Queen of the Seas, for a starting price of CZK 9.5 million.

Jan Zrzavy was a painter, graphic artist and scenographer. He was an important personality on the Czech art scene and a representative of the avant-garde movement emerging in the early 20th century. The Fantastic Landscape painting brings the spectator into a fantastic landscape which was a common topic of Zrzavy's work. Like many other paintings, it features author's ingenious play with perspective, volume and contrast of colors.