New health minister calls on nation to “pull together” to overcome crisis

Roman Prymula, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The newly appointed health minister, Roman Prymula, gave his first press briefing in office on Tuesday,  telling Czechs things were likely to get worse before they got better and urging them to  pull together to help overcome the coronavirus crisis. He said there were no plans for a lockdown, but greater discipline and more restrictive measures were inevitable for the effort to succeed.

The country’s leading epidemiologist, who was appointed health minister in a lightening change of guard following an unprecedented upsurge in Covid-19 cases, said he was taking the helm in “turbulent times” and called on the country to pull together in its time of need.

“The measures introduced will require the utmost cooperation on your part. They are neither repressive, nor political. So I want politicians to put aside their political skirmishes about who did what wrong and for people to show greater discipline in respecting the measures taken. We cannot  stop this epidemic without you.“

Minister Prymula, who masterminded the government’s strategy in the first wave of the epidemic, said that over the summer the country had loosened the preventive measures  far more than was prudent and was now paying the price. He said that, unlike in the spring, this time there were no plans for a lockdown, but there would have to be more personal responsibility and more restrictions regarding mass events for things to take a turn for the better.

Photo: ČTK/David Taneček

“We do not want to effect measures that will harm the economy. That would be the simplest solution, but it is one we want to avoid. On the other hand, the situation has significantly worsened and we must act. We are now in the same boat as Israel, Great Britain Spain or France. We are looking to them for inspiration, and must find a solution that suits our country best.”

Mr. Prymula said a state of emergency, which would give the government greater powers to effect measures, was not on the cards at present, but could not be ruled out if the situation worsened dramatically in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, he said more restrictions on mass events were on the way.

“Certain mass events will clearly have to be prohibited. We would like to maintain cultural events which pose a low-risk and curb or ban those which are contributing to the spread of infection, events where people eat, drink and talk in close proximity. I am shocked by some of the parties still held on weekends where people let their hair down without any concern for their own health and that of others. If you look at neighbouring Germany, the discipline there is much greater. So some events will need to be banned –others will not.”

Primary schools are to remain open for as long as possible, and secondary schools will only introduce distance learning in high-risk regions, Mr. Prymula said. He stressed the need to support hospitals, which will need to boost their capacity for Covid-19 patients, and hygiene offices which are having increasing problems tracing contacts. He said people found positive would soon be able to help with the latter by posting their contacts online.