Czech news in brief for January 31: Wednesday's top headlines

Minister's comments on ČEZ buyout draw criticism, HHC gummies send students to hospital, and cyber attacks nearly double in 2023.

Expats.cz Staff ČTK

Written by Expats.cz StaffČTK Published on 31.01.2024 09:07:00 (updated on 31.01.2024) Reading time: 5 minutes

HEALTH Covid-19 no longer in top 15 causes of death

The Czech Statistical Office (CZSO) has today reported a 5-percent decrease in deaths during the first half of last year, with 57,000 people passing away. Ischemic heart disease topped the cause of death, claiming 13.3 percent of lives, although the number dropped by 9 percent year on year. 

Heart failure ranked second, causing 6.4 percent of deaths. Strokes were the third leading cause, accounting for 5.7 percent. Covid-19 fell from the fourth to the 18th most common cause compared with the year-earlier period. Other significant causes included diabetes mellitus (4.4 percent) and lung cancer (4.1 percent).

Interior security Czech-Slovak border controls end

Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced this afternoon the ending of border controls with Slovakia during a press conference. The checks, initiated on Oct. 4 due to migration concerns, will end Friday, with random checks continuing. 

The decision comes after successive extensions by the coalition, with the last one pushing the measure until Feb 2. The government anticipates an improvement in the situation following the lift of controls, considering the stance of neighboring states pivotal. They will now continue on a random basis. 

HEALTH HIV rates fall, foreigners lead infections

According to the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for HIV/AIDS, there were fewer new HIV cases detected in Czechia last year, with most cases being in foreigners with permanent residence. The number of refugees from Ukraine receiving treatment also increased. The NRL stated that the country has a relatively low level of HIV and AIDS infection compared to the world and Europe, but the Covid-19 pandemic and the war conflict in Ukraine have had an impact.

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Among the new cases, the majority were sexually transmitted, with men having sex with men being the most affected group. Nearly two-thirds of cases were caught at the asymptomatic stage, and 43 had an early stage of HIV/AIDS.

education Education Ministry to get CZK 4 billion more

Minister Mikuláš Bek announced the Cabinet's approval of a CZK 4 billion increase in the Ministry of Education's budget. The education budget dominated discussions in the first half of the school year, with plans to revise basic education programs and adjust secondary school subjects. Bek revealed the decision via social media. 

The Ministry of Education's budget for this year is set at CZK 269 billion, up by CZK 3.9 billion from last year. Bek plans to allocate CZK 1 billion to universities, focusing on salary gaps, and the rest to regional education, emphasizing staff salaries and infrastructure. Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Bartoš emphasized infrastructure development and modernization.

INTERNAL SECURITY Czechia considers randomizing border controls

Interior Minister Vít Rakušan proposed replacing stable checks with random ones at the Czech-Slovak border to enhance efficiency in preventing illegal migration, stating low detainment rates justify the shift. The current border controls, initiated on Oct. 4 last year, are set until Friday, with their extension under government consideration. 

Rakušan highlighted the substantial cost of surveillance, exceeding 30 million crowns in January alone. He emphasized the government’s role in determining the continuation and format of the checks, pledging to present data and arguments to inform the decision-making process. Last year, Czech police officers detained 4,742 people during transit migration.

UKRAINE Czechia calls for EU states to aid Ukraine

Štěpán Černý, head of the European Affairs section of the Czech Government Office, highlighted Czechia's priority to secure a unanimous agreement among the 27 EU member states to augment the budget by EUR 50 billion (CZK 1.2 trillion) for aiding Ukraine. The upcoming European Council summit will focus on this proposal and the 2024-27 EU budget increase, which was obstructed by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in December. 

The withdrawal of Hungary’s voting rights will not be addressed at the summit. Černý emphasized the need to avoid altering the agreement of the remaining 26 states and explore alternative options if Hungary’s veto proves insurmountable.

Traffic Accident on Prague Ring Road leads to pileup

A major collision involving five vehicles occurred on the Prague Ring Road at the twenty-first kilometer towards D1 on Wednesday morning, causing traffic blockages. Police recommend avoiding D0 in this direction; congestion is reported on D1 and D5. Emergency services, including paramedics and firefighters, are on the scene, but no injuries requiring assistance have been reported.

Traffic disruptions extend from the 25th kilometer on D0 towards Ruzyně, the 14th kilometer from D1, and the 8th kilometer on D5 towards Prague. Authorities are working to manage the situation and clear the affected areas.

Security Cybers attacks in Czechia nearly double in 2023

Cyber attacks surged in 2023, doubling from the previous year, reports the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NUKIB). The agency recorded 262 attacks, compared to 146 in 2022. Pro-Russian hacking groups led repeated Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, contributing to the spike.

NUKIB director Lukas Kintr highlighted the severity of two incidents, involving a major state institution and an unregulated entity in the defense sector. DDoS attacks, where hackers overwhelm servers with queries, played a major role. The rise parallels cyber warfare trends, reminiscent of the 2022 Russian military attacks on Ukraine.

Politics Minister's comments on ČEZ buyout draw fire

Prague Stock Exchange saw a slight uptick Tuesday, with the PX index rising 0.35 percent to 1450.49 points. Energy company ČEZ’s shares fluctuated significantly following Deputy Prime Minister Vít Rakušan’s remarks on the state purchasing minority shares, eventually gaining 0.46 percent to CZK 880.

Rakušan's statements sparked criticism from Prime Minister Petr Fiala. Erste Banking Group shares rose 1.49 percent, while VIG Insurance Group shares fell 1.21 percent. The Czech koruna strengthened against major currencies, trading at 24.80 CZK/EUR and 22.88 CZK/USD. The Czech Statistical Office reported a 0.4 percent economic shrinkage in 2023 due to high inflation.

Health Students overdose on HHC gummies

Several Karlovy Vary primary school pupils were poisoned after consuming jelly sweets containing hydro cannabinol (HHC), a cannabis-derived cannabinoid. The regional police are investigating the incident, revealing that HHC is legally accessible in Czechia and candy from street vending machines. The affected children were hospitalized, experiencing consciousness disturbances, mood swings, aggression, and nausea.

The Karlovy Vary hospital has seen an uptick in HHC overdose cases, with five involving children this year. Adults have also been affected. HHC-induced symptoms can last 24-48 hours. Authorities are scrutinizing the circumstances surrounding the accessibility and distribution of such substances.

Tragedy Fund to give CZK 13.5 mil to shooting victims

Charles University’s Endowment Fund, collecting over CZK 52 million for victims of the December 2023 shooting at the Faculty of Philosophy, plans a phased redistribution. The university earmarked CZK 13.5 million for immediate support, covering expenses for victims’ families, injured individuals, and psychosocial aid.

The first phase, underway, aims to conclude by mid-February. The second phase, involving approximately CZK 40 million, will follow, supporting additional therapies and victims’ families. Donations continue to be accepted, and the university emphasizes transparency in fund allocation. Donors will be informed during the second phase, reflecting the university’s commitment to responsible and transparent usage.

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