Czech news in brief for January 9: Tuesday's top headlines

Police to give assessment of response to December shooting today, bitter cold grips Czechia, and German farmer blockades affect Czech borders. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 09.01.2024 09:00:00 (updated on 10.01.2024) Reading time: 6 minutes

Cold snap Almost all of Prague's homeless shelters full

According to spokespeople from various organizations and charities, most hostels in Prague that provide overnight accommodation for the homeless are currently full due to freezing weather conditions. Some organizations are utilizing "warm chairs" to increase capacity, while others are expanding their services by adding medical staff and partnering with healthcare facilities. 

The Karl Larsson Center for Social Services and the Prague Center for Social Services (CSSP) have both seen high demand for their services, with the latter increasing the number of health workers available. CSSP director Roman Béla also mentioned partnerships with hospitals and other healthcare entities to provide assistance to those in need.

DECEMBER SHOOTING Czech MP apologizes for brash comment on Prague shooting

Czech member of parliament Jiří Kobza from the opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy  (SPD) party has apologized for his controversial statements made on Facebook regarding the fatal shooting at Charles University in Prague. In his now-deleted post, Kobza questioned the teachings at the Faculty of Arts and accused the shooter of being a product of "inclusive progressivist education."

After facing criticism, Kobza stated that he did not intend to offend anyone. The Czech Conference of Rectors and Charles University both condemned Kobza's statements and the university plans to file a criminal complaint. The SPD immediately distanced itself from Kobza’s comments.

health Cases of whooping cough, scabies rise sharply in Czechia

According to the State Health Institute, the Czech Republic saw a significant increase in cases of whooping cough, scabies, scarlet fever, and legionellosis last year. The number of whooping cough cases is expected to remain high this year, posing a risk to small children and causing one death in an elderly individual. 

The rise in cases may be attributed to reduced circulation of the disease during the Covid-19 pandemic and a decrease in vaccination rates among certain groups. Approximately 494 cases were reported in all age groups in 2023. According to preliminary data, the number of cases of scabies has almost doubled year-on-year. While there were between 2,000 and 5,000 cases since 2014, last year there were 9,167. 

DIPLOMACY Senior Czech ministers to attend World Economic Forum next week

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský and Industry Minister Jozef Síkela have confirmed they will be present at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week. President Petr Pavel will not be attending, as confirmed by his spokesperson. 

The annual meeting, with the theme of rebuilding trust in 2024, will take place from Jan. 15 to Jan. 19 and will see the participation of representatives from over 100 governments, international organizations, and companies. Along with them, industry experts, young innovators, and the media will accompany the ministers from Czechia. Síkela also attended the forum last year with a focus on the energy sector.

International cooperation Czech PM to sign strategic partnership with India

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala outlined his plans to sign a strategic partnership agreement centered on innovation and trade during his visit to India, emphasizing innovation and applied research as the trip's focal points. Scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and speak at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, Fiala aims to bolster economic ties, building on past visits to Africa and Asia.

He highlighted India's dynamic market, citing significant opportunities for the Czech Republic. The trip aims to solidify collaboration in digital tech, AI, biotech, nanotech, and medical research, areas where he sees promising cooperation potential.

work Unemployment ticks up slightly in Czechia

Labor Office data released today reveals that the Czech Republic has recently seen a rise in unemployment, to 3.7 percent in December, up from 3.5 percent in November, attributed to increased job seekers and fewer vacancies for the first time since January. Analysts attribute seasonal effects and foresee a further rise to 4 percent in January, expecting ongoing labor market tension. 

With 279,227 people unemployed (up by 16,000) and 271,789 vacancies (down 7,000), December 2022 roughly mirrored the previous year's figures. Prague had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.8 percent.

German strike action German farmers continue protest at Czech border crossings

Czech police reported on social media that the Boží Dar-Oberwiesenthal and Potůčky-Johanngeorgenstadt border crossings between Czech and German towns faced morning closures due to German farmers' protests. They later reopened this morning, but face disruption.

Despite the opening of the border crossings, protesting farmers remain at these sites. On Monday, German farmers blocked the Boží Dar crossing for about three hours, protesting mass government agricultural cuts. Czech officers continue monitoring the borders for potential traffic disruptions. The German farmers intend to protest until Jan. 15, aiming for more localized actions today. 

Shooting Police to review response to university shooting today

In a press conference in Prague this afternoon, police will provide an assessment of their response to the December shooting at Charles University's Faculty of Arts. The Internal Control Office of the Police Presidium and the General Inspection of the Security Forces are reviewing the intervention in which a shooter, identified as a student, claimed 14 lives before committing suicide.

Police spokesman Ondřej Moravčík stated that the internal control office's evaluation is standard in cases involving coercive measures and injuries. Criticism surfaced on social media, questioning potential police underestimation during the university intervention on Dec. 21.

weather Bitter cold grips Czechia this morning

Bitter cold grips the Czech Republic with temperatures plummeting to minus 20 degrees Celsius in the northeast. The Czech Hydrometeorological Institute (ČHMÚ) warns of severe frost until Thursday morning. Wind exacerbates the chill, creating a real feel of minus 24 degrees Celsius in certain areas.

Meteorologists anticipate a gradual warming during the day, reaching daily highs between minus six and minus two degrees Celsius. Despite the sun's return, the northeast may experience temperatures around minus eight degrees. CHMÚ advises precautionary measures against cold-related risks, urging layered clothing and limiting outdoor exposure for vulnerable populations.

Economy Mortgage rate dips below six-percent threshold

The average mortgage rate at the start of January dropped to 5.96 percent from December's 6.02 percent, dipping below the six percent threshold for the first time in a year and a half, according to data from the Swiss Life Hypoindex.

Despite a modest decline in mortgage interest rates following the Czech National Bank's December base rate reduction, Swiss Life Select analyst Jiří Sýkora noted a gradual decrease. The most substantial reductions were seen in mortgages for individuals under 36 years old, particularly in three and five-year fixed rates. The decline in interest rates is expected to persist.

Business Czech mogul to assume control of French chain

The European Commission has approved a consortium led by Czech entrepreneur Daniel Křetínský to assume control of the financially strapped French chain of Casino stores. The consortium aims to restructure the chain, preventing potential bankruptcy. The completion of the financial overhaul is contingent on various conditions, including approval from the French Ministry of Economy for foreign investments.

Casino's restructuring plan involves a 53.7 percent ownership stake by Křetínský's consortium after injecting EUR 1.2 billion in fresh capital, potentially ending Jean-Charles Naouri's three-decade control of the company. Union strikes are anticipated amid concerns about potential store sales.

Protests German farmer blockades affect Czech border crossings

Protests by German farmers have once again blocked the Czech-German border crossings of Bozi Dar/Oberwiesenthal and Potucky/Johanngeorgenstadt in the Karlovy Vary Region. The farmers, opposing planned cuts in agriculture, previously obstructed the Bozi Dar crossing for approximately three hours on Monday.

Czech police reported the renewed blockades on social media, noting that the striking farmers aim to continue their protests until January 15. The German government, initially considering cuts to diesel support for farmers, has partially relented, maintaining tax advantages but planning to phase out diesel support by 2026, a compromise rejected by the protesting farmers.

Food Tastiest Czech apple from last year's harvest crowned

Sirius has been crowned the most delectable apple variety from last year's harvest, according to the Central Agricultural Inspection and Testing Institute's (ÚKZÚZ) apple-tasting event held in December. Out of 40 varieties assessed at the Lysice research station in the Blanensko region, Sirius stood out for its juiciness, pulp consistency, and overall taste.

The Admirál variety, winner of the previous tasting, secured the second spot, while the Lucy variety claimed third place. The Sirius variety, a winter type bred in 2007, is known for its resistance to scab, a common disease found on apples, and frequent top rankings in various tastings.

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