Epidemiologist Prymula to become health minister as Vojtěch quits amid Covid-19 spike

Roman Prymula, foto: ČTK / Michal Krumphanzl

In a surprise move, the Czech health minister Adam Vojtěch announced his resignation on Monday morning. With numbers reaching unprecedented levels, he said he was going in order to create new space for dealing with the coronavirus crisis. He will be replaced by epidemiologist Roman Prymula, who was the public face of the fight against virus when it first hit the country.

Adam Vojtěch, photo: ČTK/Šimánek Vít

Nominated by the ruling ANO party, Adam Vojtěch was minister of health for nearly three years. His stated plan on taking office was to bring about systemic change, kick start the ministry’s shift to digitisation and stop the exodus of health workers. Instead he became known for something completely different, as the outgoing health minister himself said at Monday’s news conference.

“The moment that Covid-19 came, I became the minister for Covid. We have been focusing on the virus for nine months already.

“I think I and my colleagues have done the maximum, day and night, to protect our citizens from the virus, and I believe we did a very good job in managing the first wave of the epidemic.

“I will continue to serve in my function as a member of the Chamber of Deputies and focus on healthcare.”

Andrej Babiš, photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

Shortly after Mr. Vojtěch’s announcement Prime Minister Andrej Babiš tweeted his thanks to the man who he wrote “could have been remembered as the country’s best health minister, had he not had to expend all of his energies on battling the coronavirus”.

The opposition was much less complimentary. The main opposition party leader, Petr Fiala of the Civic Democrats, wrote that Adam Vojtěch had been “the prime minister’s favourite who managed very little in his position” and that “his resignation was eight months too late”.

Just hours after Mr. Vojtěch’s surprise move, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said that his replacement would be the government commissioner for science and research, Roman Prymula. The decision to select Roman Prymula as successor had already been discussed with the president during the weekend, Mr. Babiš said.

Roman Prymula, photo: Michaela Danelová, ČRo

Professor Prymula is an epidemiologist by profession and was deputy health minister during the spring months of 2020 when the Covid-19 epidemic first hit the country, heading the national coronavirus task force.

Mr. Prymula has recently voiced some of the starkest warnings over the impact that the ongoing second wave could bring. For example, the future health minister has said that he expects the number of new daily cases to reach between 6,000 and 8,000 before things turn for the better.

Speaking to TV Prima on Sunday, he said that it is worth considering the return of the state of emergency, which was in place during the spring months, and that he believes it is likely schools will be closed, particularly in Prague.