Czechs have fourth new health minister in a year amid COVID-19 fallout

A third Czech health minister has been fired since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Jan Blatny, who had held the office since October, was dismissed by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on Wednesday.

Petr Arenberger, the director of Prague”s University Hospital Vinohrady, was sworn in by President Milos Zeman as the country’s fourth health minister in a year.

Babis had repeatedly criticised Blatny over his handling of the pandemic, including imposing strict conditions for the use of experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 patients.

Blatny had also been criticised by the pro-Russian Zeman for refusing to allow the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is still reviewing the jab and has not yet approved it for use in the EU.

Zeman said he approached his Russian, Chinese and Israeli counterparts with a request for help with vaccination and had positive responses.

“Each of us should strive to get as many vaccines as possible,” Zeman said at Arenberger’s unveiling, “unfortunately your predecessor… blocked this process.”

Blatny has always defended his decision, saying the policy not to use Sputnik V was “always based on scientific data and analysis”.

The former health minister was appointed to replace epidemiologist Roman Prymula, who was dismissed after being photographed visiting a restaurant that should have been closed under the country’s restrictive measures.

Adam Vojtech had held the post until late September, but he too was fired from the position.

The Czech Republic remains one of the hardest-hit European countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, although new daily cases are at the lowest number since December 14.

From Monday, the government plans to re-open primary schools and allow free travel around the country, which has been forbidden since March 1.

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