Czech Health Minister Petr Arenberger is taking heat for dismissing an interdisciplinary group of experts who had been advising him on the coronavirus crisis.
Arenberger — the country’s fourth health minister since the start of the pandemic — dismissed the group on Tuesday without warning or explanation.
Deputy Health Minister Martina Vašáková later told journalists that he made the decision because the public health situation is improving, and said the ministry would deal with the pandemic without outside experts from now on.
But the move immediately prompted a backlash, with many pointing out it came a day after the group’s head, Petr Smejkal, had blasted the government for mismanaging the crisis.
Smejkal, the chief epidemiologist at the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, told Czech Television on Wednesday that he believed the October general elections probably played a role in the panel getting the boot.
“We are probably uncomfortable to [the government],” he said. “We’ve done all the necessary work, and since there’s probably nothing serious ahead of us now, why should they continue to have us?”
Roman Prymula, one of Arenberger’s predecessors, told Czech Television the move was “a mistake” given that the upcoming summer holidays and increased travel meant that the risk of more variants is rising. The panel also played a critical advisory role that the over-stretched State Institute of Public Health can’t provide, he argued.
The 15-member panel, known as the Interdisciplinary Group for Epidemic Situations, had been advising the health ministry since mid-March, after then-Health Minister Jan Blatný asked for its help.
In a surprise twist, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš tweeted an offer to have panel members advise his government’s Council for Health Risks — a gesture they quickly rebuffed.
“By no means,” member Ruth Tachezy said on Wednesday. “We all refused. We will continue as an independent group.”
On Thursday, Babiš said that masks will probably not be mandatory in shops over the summer — but was immediately contradicted by Ladislav Dušek, director of the Institute of Health Information and Statistics, who said it will be necessary to wear masks and continue coronavirus measures throughout the summer.