Two suspected cases of swine flu are being investigated by doctors in Prague’s Bulovka and Motol hospitals, it was announced on Monday evening. One of the two patients undergoing tests fell ill upon return from Mexico, a spokesperson at Bulovka hospital told press. Prague’s Ruzyně Airport has launched an information campaign and is offering medical check-ups in light of an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico which has so far claimed over 140 lives. Some 20 beds at Prague’s Bulovka hospital have been readied in case of an outbreak in the Czech Republic, and 2 million vaccinations against the flu are at Czech doctors’ disposal, the country’s chief health inspector, Michael Vít, has said.
In related news, the Czech EU presidency is working to convene an extraordinary meeting of the bloc’s health council to discuss the possible threat posed by the swine flu outbreak this Monday. The meeting itself is expected to be held on Thursday. European politicians have, in the meantime, called for calm.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner refused to back down on Monday in a row with the Czech EU presidency over boosting ties with Israel. Israel should first recognise a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict before ties could be strengthened, Ms Ferrero-Waldner said. At the weekend, outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said that Ms Ferrero Waldner’s views were at variance with those of the Czech EU presidency and that the EU commissioner had ‘overstepped her powers’ by stating them. Mr Topolánek said the fact that the EU commissioner had not consulted the Czech presidency first showed the ‘arrogance’ of the European Commission. In an interview published in Israel on Sunday, the Czech prime minister said that the peace process should not be linked to relations between the EU and Israel.
The Czech government voted on Monday to contribute 2 million crowns (98,300 USD) towards the preservation of the memorial at Auschwitz concentration camp. The proposal was brought by outgoing Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová in response to a Polish request for financial assistance. The Czech Republic follows Germany in offering financial aid to the Polish government, who are seeking to protect the camp’s buildings from falling into a state of utter decay. Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said previously that it was immoral for Poland alone to have to bear the financial burden of the camp’s preservation. He called on Germany and countries whose inhabitants perished in Auschwitz to contribute towards the camp’s maintenance.
The European Union has decided to deepen its relations with Egypt, the Czech EU presidency announced on Monday. Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said that the bloc had decided to set up a group to ‘consider ways of strengthening bilateral relations’ after EU-Egypt talks in Luxembourg. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that it was the ‘right moment’ to start with the upgrading, though cautioned that the strengthening of relations with Cairo ‘would take a certain time’. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Abul Gheit, who attended the Luxembourg meeting, expressed the hope that the discussions could lead to an effective deepening of ties in 2010.
The Czech EU presidency accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of talking ‘nonsense’ on Monday in retaliation to comments Mr Lavrov made about the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative. Last month, Mr Lavrov said that the EU was seeking to establish a ‘sphere of influence’ in the former Soviet Union through its partnership scheme, which will be launched in Prague on May 7. Through the scheme, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova are all set to strengthen ties and increase trade with the European Union. Speaking on Monday, outgoing Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said that it was not helpful to talk about Europe in terms of ‘spheres of influence’, and said that Mr Lavrov knew himself that he was talking ‘nonsense’.
Former leader of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke’s lawyer filed a formal complaint against the Czech state on Monday, following Mr Duke’s arrest in Prague on Saturday. David Duke was arrested and handed an expulsion order by Czech police shortly after arriving in the Czech capital for denying the Holocaust in his book My Awakening. Mr Duke had been invited to speak in the Czech Republic by a far-right group, Národní odpor. He was arrested in a Prague restaurant on Saturday evening before he was able to address his hosts. On Monday, his lawyer, Kolja Kubíček, refused to say whether Mr Duke was planning on suing the Czech state for damages.
Outgoing interior minister Ivan Langer is to ask the cabinet for another 90 million crowns (4.43 million USD) to fund a controversial government scheme sending foreign workers who have recently been made redundant home. The scheme, which was launched in February, offers foreigners who have lost their jobs a free plane ticket home and a lump-sum of 500 euros to cover expenses. On Monday, Mr Langer told newspaper Hospodářské noviny that 1,400 of the 2,000 places allocated had already been filled, and that he would ask the cabinet for more money to broaden the scheme on May 4. So far, the voluntary repatriation programme has been especially popular amongst the Czech Republic’s Mongolian minority. Earlier this month, the interior minister said that he would like to widen the scheme to encompass those who have been living and working in the Czech Republic illegally.
Trust in the Czech economy rose in April for the second month running by 4.2 points, according to the Czech Statistical Office. In March, trust in the economy rose by 1.7 points. This is only the second time in more than a year that trust in the economy has risen for two consecutive months, the Statistical Office’s data showed. However, trust is down year-on-year by a massive 28.2 points, statisticians said. Consumers questioned by the bureau suggested that they expected a slight economic upturn over the coming 12 months, a spokesperson for the Statistical Office did say, however, that those questioned also anticipated a further rise in the rate of unemployed.
The head of the opposition Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, has maintained that he thinks the post of human rights and minorities minister should be abolished in the interim government of Jan Fischer, which is set to take office on May 9. On Monday, Mr Paroubek said that the ministry was currently completely without a concept, and that, first of all, the ministry should be clearly defined, and only then should someone be appointed to fill the post. Mr Paroubek’s views on the ministry have come under fire from the deputy head of his own party, Lubomir Zaorálek, and outgoing Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra, who both said on Sunday that it should be re-evaluated whether to abolish the post or not. Jan Fischer’s interim government will be made up of experts nominated both by the opposition Social Democrats and the outgoing government coalition.
The Czech Republic has beaten Norway 5:2 in the team’s second game at the ice hockey world championships in Switzerland on Monday evening. Goals were scored by Marek, Čajánek, Vašíček, Blaťák and Klepiš. The win follows the Czechs’ victory over Denmark 5:0 on Sunday, the team’s final match in the group stages of the competition will be against Finland on Wednesday. The Czech Republic has won the tournament on five occasions, the last being in 2005.
It will be mostly sunny over the next couple of days, with temperatures ranging between 16-20 degrees Celsius.