Czech health minister fired after getting country on road to recovery

Jan Blatný, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Health Minister Jan Blatný was dismissed from his post on Wednesday, in what is the third change-of-guard in the post since the start of the pandemic a year ago. In recent weeks the health minister had come under fire from the prime minister and president for refusing to allow the use of the unregistered Sputnik vaccine and imposing strict conditions for the use of experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.

Health Minister Jan Blatný had remained tight lipped for weeks in the face of a barrage of criticism from the prime minister and repeated calls for him to be dismissed from the President Milos Zeman. Announcing his dismissal to the media on Wednesday the respected specialist in paediatric haematology said his conscience was clear.

“In my opinion the reason behind my dismissal was political, and the prime minister is perfectly entitled to make such a decision. I want to say that my conscience is clear. All the decisions that I made in office were based on my best professional judgement and medical opinions. One possible interpretation of the prime minister’s decision is that he too thinks that we are now over the worst.

Photo: ČTK/Dalibor Glück

Mr. Blatný went on to evaluate some of the decisions made, stressing that, unpopular as some of them were, without them the country would have almost certainly faced a disaster. He said the lockdown and restrictions on freedom of movement had been essential in further preventing the spread of new mutations and an uncontrolled increase in cases which would have otherwise led to the collapse of the health system. Blatný thanked health workers and paramedics, saying that thanks to their dedicated and selfless effort the health system had not folded under extreme strain and the Czech health system was now in a position to help others by taking in patients from abroad.

The outgoing health minister warned against relaxing the strict measures too fast once the state of emergency in the country expires on April 11. He said that in cooperation with the Hygiene Office the ministry had prepared a new counter-epidemic system which should help secure a gradual and safe return to a normal life.

Finally the minister addressed the main reasons behind his dismissal –his adamant refusal to allow the use of the unregistered Sputnik vaccine and imposing strict conditions for the use of experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.

“I have been unwavering in defence of my position that we only use registered vaccines – it is the only way to guarantee that they have been tried and tested and found to be safe and that they really work. The same goes for drugs used to treat Covid. To me it is vitally important that I know that the drug administered will not only help, but will not harm the patient.”

Mr. Blatný said that the ground was prepared for the country to push ahead with the inoculation process which was the only effective solution to the pandemic. He said that, ruling out unexpected fall-outs in deliveries, 70 percent of the population could be inoculated by the summer, enabling the country to return to normal.