Czech PM will dismiss health minister unless he resigns over 'inexcusable' restaurant visit

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
File photo: Czech health minister Roman Prymula addresses a press conference after the government talks on coronavirus in Prague, Czech Republic. March 15, 2020.
File photo: Czech health minister Roman Prymula addresses a press conference after the government talks on coronavirus in Prague, Czech Republic. March 15, 2020.   -  Copyright  DEML ONDREJ/AP

The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš, has said he will dismiss the country's health minister if he doesn't resign over after a media report that he broke strict government restrictions and visited a Prague restaurant.

Roman Prymula has come under fire after he was photographed leaving a restaurant in Prague on Wednesday, which should have been closed under the country's new COVID-19 rules.

Czech daily Blesk reported that the politician also failed to wear a mask when getting into his chauffeur-driven car.

"Minister Prymula's mistake is inexcusable," tweeted Babiš on Friday.

"At a time when we are asking people to follow important rules, when our health professionals are fighting on the front line, such behaviour is completely unacceptable."

"I asked him to resign, and if he doesn't, I'm ready to sack him."

Andrej Babiš also said that he will meet with the country's president later on Friday to discuss a possible replacement.

Prymula previously served as deputy health minister in the Czech government and led the country's response to the pandemic during the spring.

In an interview with Czech weekly Respekt, the health minister said he was invited to participate in a meeting with a hospital director and only went through the restaurant to a private space.

Prymula added he did not think he has done much wrong but will resign if that is what the Czech public wanted.

The claims concerning the health minister drew widespread criticism on social media.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek welcomed the Prime Minister's decision and said it was "the only possible and correct solution".

"This gives us a chance to maintain public confidence in promoting the necessary measures to combat the epidemic," tweeted Hamacek.

The interior minister had previously posted on Facebook that COVID-19 rules should apply to everyone "without excuse".

"It is impossible for the government and the coalition to be represented by people who do not respect government regulations," he added.

"It is a disregard for the thousands of frontline people working to fight the pandemic and save our lives."

Prague city council has also announced it would launch “administrative proceedings” against the Health Minister and the upmarket Rio's restaurant, in Prague's Vyšehrad district.

"Apparently, someone thinks that some people are more equal, the rules here still apply to everyone equally," the council said.

Prymula had announced tight restrictions to combat the virus on Wednesday, closing bars, restaurants, and schools while limiting public gatherings to two people.

Blesk alleged that Prymula visited the Prague restaurant just hours later with Jaroslav Faltynek, deputy head of the senior government ANO (YES) movement, which is led by Prime Minister Babiš.

Faltynek has apologised for the meeting and said he asked to meet the minister to discuss a special parliamentary session that is set to approve a plan for NATO military medical personnel to assist local Czech colleagues.

It was not clear if the Prague restaurant was open when Prymula and Faltynek went inside.

In a Twitter video on Thursday, the health minister himself stated that restaurants in shopping malls could open their kitchens, but only for deliveries or their other establishments.

The Czech Republic has been facing record coronavirus infections that put the health system under pressure, with 14,151 daily cases reported on Thursday.

The country has logged 223,065 cases of the virus since March - when considering per capita figures, this is the highest total in the EU.

Around a third of total cases in the Czech Republic have been recorded in the last seven days, while 1,845 people have died from the coronavirus in total.

The Czech Prime Minister also faced criticism this summer after he went on holiday in Crete while urging his compatriots not to leave the country.