Daily news summary
PM: Czech hospitals ordered to create four month supply of facemasks in light of COVID-19 threat
Czech hospitals will need to establish a four month supply of facemasks in light of the threat from the coronavirus known as COVID-19, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said on Wednesday.
The Czech prime minister reiterated that the country has no confirmed cases of the virus yet and said the state was prepared to handle the side effects if quarantine was instituted in any Czech city. He went on to say that a military hospital in Tichonín can be converted into a specialised hospital to handle COVID-19 patients within 12 hours if the situation demanded it and that the government has concrete plans on how to proceed in case of an outbreak and that these will be further discussed at Monday’s State Security Council meeting.
COVID-19 cases have been detected in neighbouring Austria and Germany. Three Czechs are currently in quarantine after returning from foreign destinations where COVID-19 was detected.
European Parliament delegation arrives in Prague to investigate Czech PMs alleged conflict of interest
A group of European MEPs has arrived in the Czech Republic with the mission to investigate the facts surrounding Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ alleged conflict of interest and find out how Czech authorities deal with money from EU funds.
The delegation, led by the European Parliament’s Chair of the Committee on Budgetary Control Monika Hohlmeier, will be meeting with representatives from relevant Czech ministries as well as the head of the Supreme Audit Office until Friday. The MEPs earlier request to meet with Mr Babiš himself was declined by the Czech prime minister, who said it would not correspond to the professional nature of the delegation's visit.
Mr Babiš was found to still be in indirect control over his former business empire Agrofert through trust funds by an audit conducted on behalf of the European Commission last year.
Foreign minister calls for united stance on China’s letter warning of Senate trip to Taiwan
Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček says all constitutional officials should agree on the country’s official stance towards a January letter from the Chinese Embassy which warned Prague China could harm Czech business interests if a planned Senate trip to Taiwan went ahead.
After meeting with Senate Chair Miloš Vystrčil on Wednesday, Mr Petříček said that he will prepare a draft statement which will then be discussed with other constitutional officials in March. Thus far, some officials have condemned the letter, while others have chosen not to comment.
China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day and therefore protested vehemently in the letter to what it saw as an “extremely inappropriate” trip that “carries the signs of an official visit”.
Czechs advised to avoid Italian regions hit by coronavirus
The State Security Council has recommended that Czech citizens not visit the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto because of an outbreak of Covid-19. People should also weigh up going anywhere abroad at the present time in view of the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said after a meeting of the council on Tuesday evening. Its members did not consider curtailing large arts or sports events in the Czech Republic.
The prime minister said any Czechs who returned from abroad and started feeling symptoms consistent with those caused by Covid-19 should immediately contact a doctor, ideally by telephone.
The minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, called on Czechs planning to travel to other countries to register with his government department through a voluntary system on its website.
Police releases two civil servants arrested during anti-corruption raid at Labour Ministry
Two high ranking civil servants, arrested as suspects, during Monday’s police raid at the Ministry of Labour and Social affairs have been released from custody, but charges against them remain, Czech Television reports.
Deputy Minister Jan Baláč and the head of the ministry’s cybersecurity department Karel Macek are both suspected of manipulating public tenders and have been suspended.
Monday’s police raid saw the police gather evidence at the ministry for a case concerned with a contract for new information systems at the labour ministry worth some CZK 250 million, according to news site Lidovky.cz. Both men could face up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis says he will demand an explanation on the circumstances that led to the raid from Labour Minister Jana Maláčová.
Anti-Babiš group launches series of new events
The group Million Moments for Democracy launched a new series of events dubbed Relay for Democracy on Tuesday. The first one, comprising a public discussion and protest gathering, took place in the West Bohemian city of Plzeň and will be followed by further gatherings in other regional centres every week, the organisers said. The series will conclude in Prague at the start of June.
Million Moments for Democracy was initially set up to protest against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who its founders say is in conflict of interest. It has twice held demonstrations in Prague drawing an estimated quarter of a million people or more.
Archaeologists unearth three medieval skeletons who could have been victims of ritual killing
Archaeologists have announced the discovery of three skeletons believed to be around 1,000 years old in the foundations of Břeclav Castle in South Moravia. The skeletons were found in close proximity to each other and in extreme positions, which archaeologists hypothesise could mean that they had been tied together and died a violent death, possibly related to a pagan ritual.
Archaeologist Miroslav Dejmal told Czech Television that this is a rare discovery. Although the area had been converted to Christianity by around 1050, some pagan practices were retained for a long time, he said.
The team of archaeologists now wants to find out further details about the skeletons, including their gender, age and whether they were related.
Temperatures are set to range between 3 to 7 degrees Celsius on Thursday, with heavy clouds and snowfall expected in Northern Bohemia and parts of Moravia and Silesia.