Daily news summary

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European Parliament comittee asks Czech PM to deal with his possible conflict of interest

Czech authorities should resolve the ongoing conflict of interest of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who still has an influence on Agrofert, the company he founded, and thus collects money from European Union funds, several MEPs on the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee agreed on Thursday.

The committee discussed a report from a February European Parliament mission to the Czech Republic. In non-binding recommendations, the committee called on the prime minister to resign or stop collecting money from the EU budget through companies associated with the Agrofert holding if a conflict of interest ends up being proven. According to MEPs, the European Commission should stop payments to Agrofert and strictly apply zero tolerance.

Last year's European Commission audit report states that Babiš still has an influence on the company, which he invested in trust funds. The Czech Prime Minister refuses its conclusion. In response, Agrofert spokesman Karel Hanzelka called the committee's mission politicized

Babiš, Pompeo sign 5G declaration to find trustworthy suppliers

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have remotely signed a declaration committing to find reliable, trustworthy suppliers for 5G mobile networks.

The declaration aims to protect networks from intrusion and manipulation, and to ensure the protection of citizens’ privacy and rights, the Czech government office said.

Czech and US intelligence services have warned that to have Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE roll out national infrastructure such as the 5G network would represent a security threat.

Babiš and Pompeo spoke by phone Tuesday since a conference 5G networks at the Prague National Museum had to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Pompeo was to be the main speaker.

The auction of 5G frequencies in the Czech Republic was initially scheduled for the second half of 2019 but was postponed due to an objection by the European Commission over competition concerns.

Health Minister: We are ready to end obligatory wearing of face masks in mid-June

If the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop favourably, the obligatory wearing of face masks will be lifted in mid-June, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch confirmed to Czech Television on Thursday.

However, this would not mean a total end to compulsory face mask wearing, with the rule likely to still be in place when people enter areas of high concentration, such as public transport or shopping malls.

The health minister's statement contradicts an earlier tweet by Central Crisis Staff member Roman Šmucler, who tweeted on Wednesday that facemask wearing would end together with the state of emergency on May 17.

Czech Republic to shift focus on local COVID-19 outbreaks instead of statewide measures

The Czech Republic’s shift towards smart quarantine is a key project and will enable the country to end its statewide measures, Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula said on Thursday. Instead, focus is to be shifted to local outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus, based around swift detection and isolation of infected citizens.

To boost the effectiveness of smart quarantine, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch urged Czechs to download the app eRouška, which creates so-called “memory maps” based on mobile phone tracking and identifies high risk areas.

Health Minister: Ban on hospital and care home visits to be lifted from May 25

The current ban on visits to care homes and hospitals is to be lifted from May 25, two weeks earlier than initially planned, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch tweeted on Thursday. Visits will be possible if hygiene rules are maintained.

The ban has been in place for 11 weeks. It was initiated to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in areas with potentially high-risk patients.

Gatherings of up to 500 people are also to be allowed from May 25, the Health Minister said.

Czech BIS files criminal complaint over ‘Russian poison plot’ leak

The Czech counterintelligence service (BIS) has filed a criminal complaint over the leak of classified information about a Russian agent who allegedly arrived in Prague with the deadly poison ricin, server the Lidovky.cz writes.

The targets of the agent, travelling on a diplomatic passport, were Prague’s Lord Mayor and two colleagues who had taken symbolic steps angering the Kremlin and are currently under 24-hour police, the weekly Respekt wrote last month.

Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček has confirmed the Russian diplomat’s arrival but would not comment on whether the man had the poison ricin in his briefcase, as Respekt reported. On Wednesday, a parliamentary committee said Czech authorities had responded appropriately to the situation.

Security measures at Czech Embassy in Moscow to be reinforced

The Czech Foreign Ministry will strengthen security measures at its embassy in Moscow, Czech Television reported on Thursday.

According to the ministry, the measures are part of a long-term plan, which has nothing to do with the current tension in Czech-Russian relations.

The measures include perimeter protection and the control of entry into the embassy, ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Štíchová told the Czech News Agency.

Last month, demonstrations led by a Russian nationalist group took place in front of the embassy, while in front of the General Consulate in St. Petersburg another group lit a smoke bomb.

Unemployment reached two year high in April

There were 254,000 people without work in the Czech Republic in April, the highest level since March 2018, according to the Czech Labour Office. However, Labour Minister Jana Maláčová says the data is still favourable. Unemployment rose by 0.4 percent in April to a total of 3.4 percent.

Most of those recently rendered unemployed are from the culinary, hotel and sales sectors.

There are currently 330,000 vacant jobs in the country, statistics show.

Weather

Temperatures are set to rise on Friday, reaching 24 degrees Celsius in the west of the country. In Moravia and Silesia it is likely to be 3 degrees cooler. Skies will remain partly cloudy with no rain.