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Czechs replace health minister amid record infection surge

PRAGUE – The Czech government moved Monday to appoint an epidemiologist as the new health minister as the country struggles with a surge of new coronavirus infections.

The outgoing minister, Adam Vojtech, resigned from his post on Monday, saying his departure was meant to create space for a possible different approach to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis, in announcing Prymula’s selection, said it was a moment for "crisis management.”

President Milos Zeman said he planned to swear in epidemiologist Roman Prymula to the post later Monday.

As deputy health minister, Prymula led the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic for a time in the spring.

The country recorded a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths then compared to hard-hit western European countries such as Italy, Spain and Britain.

Prymula later assumed a different post, as a government health care envoy.

After the government lifted most of its restrictions in the summer, the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases began to gradually grow and reached a record high last week.

On Thursday, the day-to-day increase of new cases was higher than 3,000, almost the same number as it was in the entire month of March.

Prymula said on the weekend that the loosening of restrictions was carried out too quickly. He estimated that the country could see 8,000 new daily infections if strict new restrictions are not applied.

The Czech Republic has had a total of 49,290 confirmed cases and 503 deaths in a population of nearly 11 million people.

Babis said he was sorry about Vojtech's resignation, calling the outgoing minister “the best” the country ever had. But a month ago, when coronavirus infections were growing, Babis opposed a health ministry plan presented by Vojtech to introduce restrictive measures to contain the surge, including mandatory face masks at schools and elsewhere.

“It’s time for us all to cooperate, to do our maximum to end the spike,” Babis said Monday.