PRAGUE — Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš on Friday asked his health minister, Roman Prymula, to resign after the head of the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic was caught violating the strict restrictions he had imposed just days earlier.
“We must lead by example. Such a mistake cannot be excused,” Babiš said. “We can’t preach water and drink wine. It is unacceptable.”
On Friday, the tabloid Blesk published photos of Prymula having a late dinner with a senior member of Babiš’s ANO party in a Prague restaurant. Since October 14, Czech restaurants have been restricted to serving only takeaway orders.
In the photos, Prymula was not wearing a face mask in the restaurant, in the street and also in a car with a driver (who was masked) on the ride home. On Wednesday, the Czech government ordered face masks to be worn in most public situations as well as by passengers in a car with people who are not family members..
“If the public wishes it, I will resign,” Prymula said. “I am ready to bear the consequences.”
Prymula has been health minister for just a month, since September 21.
Babiš has also demanded that Prymula’s dinner companion, Jaroslav Faltýnek, resign from his post as first vice chairman of ANO.
The controversy comes as the Czech Republic suffers the second-highest weekly per capita coronavirus infection and death rates in the world, behind Andorra and Argentina, respectively.
Prymula said he had dined with Faltýnek at a friend’s restaurant to discuss the use of foreign military medics to help ease the strain on the Czech health care system. Hundreds of Czech doctors and nurses have become ill with the virus in the past weeks.
On Wednesday, Czech laboratories detected 14,968 new coronavirus cases in the country, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. On the same day, 113 people died of COVID-19, also a record high.
The 56-year-old Prymula, an epidemiologist, was the architect of the Czech Republic’s widely praised response to the virus in the spring. The country immediately closed its borders, shut schools and non-essential shops, and was the first European country to mandate the wearing of face masks in public. It was also the first European country to ease lockdown restrictions.
He left his post as deputy health minister at the end of June, but was recalled by Babiš to replace Adam Vojtěch as health minister in September as new coronavirus cases began to rise.