A further 20 cases of swine flu were registered in the Czech Republic over the weekend, the Health Ministry said on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in this country to 63. According to the ministry, the majority of those infected did not need hospital treatment and were recovering in isolation at home, without needing to use antivirals. A spokesperson for the ministry added that none of those infected displayed any signs of further health complications, and that all of the patients were on course to make a full recovery. The new cases were mostly registered in people who had returned to the Czech Republic from abroad, notably Great Britain, the United States and Spain, though several of the patients had not recently left the country, and had contracted the virus from those they had been in contact with here.
A government news conference was disrupted on Monday when a man started heckling Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb. When the floor opened for questions after the conference, an elderly gentleman took the microphone and complained that while minorities were represented and lobbied for by Mr Kocáb, pensioners received no such aid from the minister. The gentleman refused to hand over the microphone when asked. News website Novinky.cz reported that the heckler was unhappy about a rise in the price of his rent and complained that Mr Kocáb was offering him no protection, unlike, he said, the young squatters recently evicted from Prague’s Milada squat, for whom the minorities and human rights’ minister found replacement accommodation.
The Czech Interior Ministry’s voluntary repatriation scheme will be extended to cover illegal immigrants as of September 14, a ministry spokesperson said on Monday. So far, 1871 people have taken part in the government’s repatriation scheme, which offered foreigners recently made redundant in this country a free plane ticket home and a lump sum of 500 euros. The illegal aliens who choose to take part in the scheme will in some cases have to pay for their own transport home, and will subsequently be banned from the Czech Republic for up to three years. The Interior Ministry has said previously that the controversial project is to help reduce the risk of crime committed by unemployed foreigners in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Communist Party has said that it is ready to apologise for wrongs committed under communism in the former Czechoslovakia if that leads to closer cooperation with the centre-left Social Democrat Party after October’s elections. On Monday, Communist leader Vojtěch Filip told Hospodářské noviny that ‘the left’s cooperation’ was ‘in everyone’s best interest’ and that his party was ready to say sorry, if that would lead to closer ties between the two parties. According to Hospodářské noviny, however, the Social Democrats have no interest in such a deal. Deputy Chairman of the Social Democrats Zdeněk Škromach told the paper that the Communists could well apologise, but that this would not change anything. The Communist Party already apologised for past wrongs after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
The European Union will not make a decision on whether to re-impose visas for Canadians until the autumn, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said in Brussels on Monday. The Czech Republic has asked the EU to consider introducing visas for Canadians in retaliation to Ottawa’s decision to re-introduce visas for Czechs. According to Mr Kohout on Monday, however, the EU’s response first has to be considered by the European Commission and nothing will be decided upon before September. Following two years of visa-free travel, Canada reintroduced visas for Czechs on July 14 after thousands of Czech Roma applied for asylum.
In more business news, financial daily E15 reports that Monday was the deadline for potential investors to voice an interest in Czech brewery Staropramen. Staropramen has been put on the market by Anheuser-Busch InBev alongside the conglomerate’s other central and eastern European ventures to help pay off debts of nearly 45 billion USD. The brewer has said it hopes to receive 2.6 billion USD through the sale of its central and eastern European businesses, while analysts suggest that its enterprises in the region are worth considerably less than that, something closer to 2 billion USD. It has not been revealed just who is interested in the purchase of Staropramen, but there is speculation that private equity funds such as CVC Capital Partners and TPG have put in a bid. Staropramen is the second biggest beer-producer in the Czech Republic.
Czech energy giant ČEZ said on Monday that it was still trying to reconnect some 600 customers left without electricity after storms last Thursday. Extreme weather felled trees and cut power cables around the Czech Republic, initially leaving around 150,000 people without power. Electricity supplier ČEZ said that it would have to spend in the region of 30-40 million crowns (1.7-2.2 million USD) to repair damage caused by the storms. Two people were killed in last Thursday’s storms.
The government agreed on a plan to combat the effects of the financial crisis with the Czech Union of Towns and Municipalities on Monday. At a news conference after the meeting, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said the government would give Czech towns some 2 billion crowns (112 million USD) to help fight the economic downturn, and would set aside another 2 billion crowns in reserve. Head of the Union of Towns and Municipalities Oldřich Vlasák said that the lion’s share of the money would be spent on services conducted at a regional level on behalf of the state. Mr Vlasák added that, at the moment, municipalities are covering up to 70 percent of the cost of such services.
Confidence in the Czech economy grew slightly in July, according to data released by the Statistical Office on Monday. Confidence was up by 0.8 points on that of the previous month, mostly because of a rise in business confidence, the office said. Consumer confidence fell in July by two points, while business confidence was up by 1.5 points. Compared with figures from this time last year, overall confidence is down by some 23 points. According to the Statistical Office, the number of respondents who feared unemployment rose in July, while those who said they were setting aside cash remained the same.
Police have found the body of a 40-year-old woman in Benešov nad Ploučnicí who, they say, may be the 15th victim of the flash floods which struck the country in early July. A spokesperson for the police in Děčín said forensics specialists were now trying to identify the woman who was found in a river on Monday morning. The results of DNA tests should be known in a month, spokesman Ladislav Cvik added. The body is thought to be that of a woman who disappeared on July 4 when helping others escape flash floods in north Bohemia. The floods claimed at least 14 lives around the Czech Republic and caused billions of crowns worth of damage.
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