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Czech health official's ignorant claim about COVID-19 response in Romani settlements in Slovakia prompts pushback from MEP

22.5.2020 7:42
Czech Deputy Health Minister Roma Prymula (left) and Slovak MEP Peter Pollák (right). (Collage:  Romea.cz)
Czech Deputy Health Minister Roma Prymula (left) and Slovak MEP Peter Pollák (right). (Collage: Romea.cz)

Czech Deputy Health Minister Roman Prymula said at the beginning of this week that from an epidemiological perspective, he considers Romani-inhabited settlements in Slovakia to be a problem. The Czech News Agency quoted him as saying:  "Slovakia is generally very calm, the situation is much more favorable there than in our country, with one exception, and that is the Romani settlements. Not very many measures are being taken there and for us that means a problem, in a way, because it is exactly people from those settlements who could migrate onto our territory."

MEP Peter Pollák, who is a member of the Permanent Crisis Team in Slovakia, responded to that claim on 20 May. "I've been anticipating that anything is possible, but the fact that the Deputy Health Minister of a partner country is criticizing Slovakia despite the fact that when it comes to combating the coronavirus we are at the top of our game and we have introduced many measures for endangered groups - I actually did not expect such criticism," the MEP told news server Romea.cz.

"Citizens of Slovakia do not pose an epidemiological threat to the Czech Republic. The allegations made by the Czech Deputy Health Minister are full of stereotypes and prejudices, the fact is that Slovakia is the only country in Europe that has paid attention, in a significant way, to at-risk Romani localities when combating coronavirus. Slovakia managed to respond immediately, during the beginning phase, after the arrival of returnees from abroad we identified those who had repatriated and tested positive and we nipped possible focal points of infection in the bud. The measures taken are highly effective and Slovakia does not pose a threat to the Czech Republic. I am convinced the Czech Republic will manage to deal with the eventual departure of Mr Prymula from his position as Deputy Health Minister without any difficulties," the MEP told news server Romea.cz.

Situation in the Romani settlements has remained under control

Slovakia began testing for COVID-19 in 33 selected Romani settlements at the beginning of April, when a plan to combat it there was created and presented by Slovak PM Igor Matovič together with Pollák and the newly-appointed Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities, Andrea Bučková, both of whom are also Romani community members. The Army provided aid with the testing and people who tested positive were isolated in quarantine.

At the end of March, nonprofit organizations had warned the Government of the risks of the virus spreading in socially excluded localities. Some of those organizations also called on the Government at a later point to avoid discriminatory measures and to avoid stigmatizing Romani people as originators of infection when addressing the situation in the Romani settlements.

Bučková commented on the course of the measures as follows: "The testing in Žehra is also underway without any complications - professionally, respectfully and smoothly." It was exactly in the Dreveník Romani settlement in the village of Žehra that the infection was found to have spread, so the Crisis Team divided the settlement into four zones, established a quarantine center there, and tested everybody.

As in the other Romani settlements in Slovakia where epidemiological measures had to be introduced, the situation in Žehra has also remained under control, according to the authorities. As for Czech Deputy Health Minister Prymula, some of his previous statements about the pandemic have also been controversial.

On Sunday, 22 March, Prymula told Czech Television that border restrictions could be in place for as long as two years, depending on how well other countries deal with the pandemic. In mid-May, in association with the Czech Republic relaxing its containment measures, he said people should abandon large-scale social interactions and live in small communities of just a few families.

bau, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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COVID-19, Peter Pollák, Romské osady, Slovakia



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