PRAGUE (AP) — Czech Prime Minster Andrej Babis fired his health minister on Wednesday, the third to have been ousted during the pandemic in one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries.
By KAREL JANICEK
Jan Blatny was replaced by Petr Arenberger, the director of Prague’s University Hospital Vinohrady, who was sworn in by President Milos Zeman.
Czech president Milos Zeman, right, appoints Petr Arenberger, left, director of the Prague-Vinohrady Teaching Hospital, as the new Czech health minister, replacing the sacked Jan Blatny, in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Candles and flowers are placed to pay respect to victims of the COVID-19 pandemic at a spontaneous memorial place set at the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic, Monday, March 29, 2021. The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, recently among the worst-hit areas in the world, are finally seeing some improvements following tight lockdowns.
Zeman said he approached his Russian, Chinese and Israeli counterparts with a request for help with the vaccines and received a positive response from all of them. Israel donated 5,000 Moderna vaccines to the Czech Republic in February. “Unfortunately, your predecessor has blocked the process,” Zeman told Arenberger at a ceremony, blaming Blatny for those who have died. Blatny was also under fire from Zeman, an ally of Babis who is known for his pro-Russian and pro-Chinese views. Zeman asked the prime minister last month to replace Blatny over his refusal to allow the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine because it has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency, or EMA.
Babis repeatedly criticized Blatny over his handling of the pandemic, including imposing strict conditions for the use of experimental drugs to treat COVID-19 patients. The move opens the way for a possible use of Russian and Chinese vaccines, which have not been approved by the European Union’s drug regulator.
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