Health minister under pressure to resign after photos suggest he broke coronavirus measures

Photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Roman Prymula is under pressure to resign from the position of Czech Minister of Health after the tabloid Blesk published photographs of him not wearing a mask while meeting with a high ranking ANO party politician in a restaurant on Wednesday night. The incident occured amidst the most serious health crisis in the country’s modern history. 

Photographs appeared in the daily tabloid Blesk on Friday morning of a night-time meeting attended by Health Minister Roman Prymula and the Chairman of the ANO party’s Chamber of Deputies club Jaroslav Faltýnek. The meeting took place on the night from Wednesday to Thursday and both individuals are seen not wearing a mask as well as entering into a restaurant which is supposed to be closed according to the current government measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Jaroslav Faltýnek, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

Just hours after the photographs went public, the opposition CIvic Democrats, Christian Democrats and TOP 09 called on the both politicians to resign. Civic Democrat’s leader Petr Fiala said the government should undergo a vote of no confidence in the Chamber of Deputies once the crisis is over.

“The expression ‘preaches water, drinks wine’ comes to mind. The situation is very serious and this is unacceptable. Mr. Prymula and Mr. Faltýnek have laughed in the faces of people who are obeying the measures that the government has put in place.”

Not just opposition parties, but also the leader of the ANO party’s coalition partner in government, Deputy-Premier and Interior Minister Jan Hamáček, called on Mr. Prymula to resign immediately. The health minister has lost all credibility and shown contempt for the thousands of front-line workers fighting the pandemic and saving lives, he said. Meanwhile, Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib said that City Hall will launch administrative proceedings with the individuals and the restaurant regarding the breach of measures currently in place.

At a special press briefing called shortly after the news broke Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said the health minister would go –one way or another.

“It is an absolute catastrophe. It is a total shock for me. We have to lead by example and such a mistake is inexcusable. I have asked the minister to resign. If he will not do so, he will be sacked. I have also asked Mr. Faltynek to resign from the position of Deputy-Chairman of the ANO party. I am sorry about this and I apologise to everyone.”

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Mr. Babiš added that he had informed President Miloš Zeman about his decision. The president, he said, had doubts about whether this was the right way to move forward. Nevertheless, he has agreed to a meeting with Mr. Babiš this afternoon.

However, the situation was further complicated after Health Minister Prymula announced that he will not be resigning from his position, because he believes he has not broken the rules. He said that the meeting had not taken place on the restaurant premises and that he only made a slight mistake of not putting on his mask ahead of getting into his car.

Meanwhile, Mr. Babiš has said that he is considering two unnamed individuals as replacement for the current health minister. Whether he truly does recall him is likely to be decided at this afternoon’s meeting with the president.