Czech PM tells health minister to quit after breaking lockdown rules

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Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis, wearing a face mask, arrives ahead of the European Council meeting in Brussels, on October 15th, 2020. Photo: Olivier Hoslet/AFP via Getty Images
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Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said on Friday he would dismiss the nation's health minister unless the minister resigned for holding a meeting in a restaurant closed under government measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The scandal comes as the Czech government struggles to slow Europe's fastest growth in coronavirus cases that has raised fears already strained hospitals could buckle under the pressure.

"When our medical staff are fighting on the front line to save lives of our fellow citizens, such a thing is absolutely inexcusable," Mr Babis told reporters. "We cannot preach water and drink wine."

The scandal erupted on Friday when tabloid Blesk ran pictures of health minister Roman Prymula leaving a restaurant and entering a car without a face mask, a violation of rules that closed restaurants and required wearing masks in most places including chaffeured cars.

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Mr Prymula, in an interview with weekly magazine Respekt posted online, said he attended a work meeting with the head of the ruling party's parliamentary faction Jaroslav Faltynek, which took place in a back room of an otherwise closed restaurant.

He said he wore a face mask once inside the car.

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Mr Prymula had said in the interview conducted before Babis's comments that he could resign if it was the public's wish.

Prumyla (56) is an epidemiologist and a reserve army colonel who was called up by Mr Babis to help manage the deteriorating Covid-19 situation just a month ago.

The country of 10.7 million reported the second-highest daily 14,151 new cases for Thursday and a total of 1,845 deaths including a daily record 113 on Wednesday.

The government has faced criticism for easing most restrictions at the start of summer and then acting too slowly to reimpose them as cases started to spike in the fall. Meanwhile, the public has been less willing than in the spring to follow distancing and mask-wearing rules.

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