Czech morning news in brief: top stories for Nov. 23, 2020

Small shops to remain closed for now, Health Minister to rework PES alert system, Prague court rules on illegal trafficking of rhino horns. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 23.11.2020 08:28:00 (updated on 23.11.2020) Reading time: 4 minutes

Top news stories for Nov. 23, 2020, compiled by CTK.

Small shops may reopen as of Nov 30

ECONOMY - According to Czech Health Minister Jan Blatny, small shops, which have been forced to close due to government pandemic restrictions, should not reopen until Nov. 30, as it would dangerously increase the number of people out in the streets by up to one third. Blatny said in a debate on Prima TV this past weekend that at present, the reopening of all shops is impossible since it would lead to increased personal contacts. Last week, the Chamber of Deputies asked the cabinet to put an end to the discrimination against Czech retailers in favor of large retail chains by today. Food, drug and other selected stores have been exempted from the closures, therefore supermarkets have been allowed to remain open, though they also offer other goods than food and drugstore products.

Health Minister to rework PES alert system to function outside state of emergency

PES SYSTEM - The Czech Ministry of Health will draw up an alternative anti-pandemic PES table to allow for some infection alert levels and their corresponding sets of restrictions to not require a state of emergency, Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) said. However, he stressed that he would like the current PES system to stay unchanged until the end of the year at least. "As soon as 60 to 70 percent of the population are vaccinated, we can get rid of the PES system," he said. Currently, at all levels within the system, restrictions cannot be imposed without the country being under the state of emergency. Earlier this week, the Chamber of Deputies asked the cabinet to revise the PES table so that the first, lowest level of alert could work independent of a state of emergency, and to introduce a new, zero level outside the system. As of today, the PES index in the Czech Republic has decreased to 57 points from 62, which brings it to level three in the system.

Minister to propose repeated Covid-19 testing of selected groups

COVID - Czech Health Minister Jan Blatny (ANO) plans to change the country's testing strategy and propose that selected groups of population be repeatedly tested for coronavirus, using antigen tests, he said in a debate on Prima TV yesterday. He suggested that the state financially support responsible firms that have been preventively testing their staff at their own expense. PM Andrej Babis (ANO) told Czech Television yesterday that he believes that antigen testing should be offered to people for free and the costs covered by the state. "I think we should provide it free of charge," he said. Blatny said that the current system of testing costs CZK 2-3 billion a month. "This is a large sum, which must be invested carefully." He added that the testing strategy is going to be upgraded. "In the current situation it makes sense to focus on the at-risk groups." The testing also makes sense at places where a higher number of people meet, he said. The Health Minister plans to discuss his new draft testing strategy with PM Andrej Babis (ANO) today.

Government antivirus programs support over 60,000 firms

BUSINESS - A total of 60,708 firms have drawn compensation from Czech antivirus programs since Nov. 16 in order to balance the impact of Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the government, Labour Minister Jana Malacova said yesterday. She added that CZK 18.7 billion has been distributed to prop-up 820,257 jobs. Several hundred firms have attempted to misuse government antivirus programs by claiming, for example, a certain compensation sum but subsequently distributing a lower one to their employees, Malacova (CSSD) said in a debate on Czech Television yesterday. With the Antivirus A and Antivirus B programs, which have been in effect since March 12, the state has covered 100 percent of employee wages, with a limit of 50,000 crowns per employee per month for firms that had to close due to government coronavirus restrictions. It has also covered 80 percent of sick benefits for employees in quarantine, calculated from the super-gross wage capped at 39,000 crowns.

Court gives suspended sentences in rhino hunting case

ENVIRONMENT - A Prague court has handed down suspended sentences to a group of 16 people for the illegal trafficking of 24 rhinoceros horns worth almost CZK 96 million, with all suspects pleading not guilty and some appealing the verdict on the spot. The organizers back in 2011-13 hired hunters to kill southern white rhinoceros in South Africa and bring their horns back to the Czech Republic, where they were resold for a much higher price. The hunters previously told the court that they neither knew their acts were unlawful nor were they paid to hunt the rhinos. The court originally acquitted 15 of the suspects, but the appeals court cancelled the verdict and ordered new proceedings including a tougher assessment of evidence. Some cultures believe believes that rhino horn powder can cure cancer and therefore put a high price on it.

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