Covid-stricken Czech president swears in prime minister from inside glass box

Milos Zeman's coronavirus diagnosis is latest health problem to affect country's politics

Milos Zeman, right, inside a glass box to swear in his successor. AFP

Czech President Milos Zeman swore in a new prime minister from inside a glass box on Sunday after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Mr Zeman, whose health problems have hung over Czech politics since he was taken to hospital the day after October’s election, appeared in a wheelchair escorted by a medic in protective gear.

Speaking from his cubicle, he handed the role of prime minister to Petr Fiala, who will lead a five-party coalition.

Mr Fiala, who narrowly defeated billionaire premier Andrej Babis, will immediately face an energy crisis and a steep rise in coronavirus cases that is threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

He was due to be sworn in on Friday, but the ceremony was delayed after Mr Zeman, 77, contracted the virus.

It came only a day after he was discharged from a military hospital in Prague, following a six-week stay that added confusion to the coalition talks.

Mr Zeman suggested before the election that he would lean towards Mr Babis, but moved in early November to charge Mr Fiala with forming a government.

He will have the further responsibility of formally appointing ministers in Mr Fiala’s Cabinet.

A medical worker in protective gear brought the president into his transparent cubicle. AP

The new prime minister wants a full government in place by mid-December as he prepares to tackle record daily virus infections.

New restrictions imposed on Thursday mean bars and restaurants must close at 10pm, while all Christmas markets were ordered to shut.

“I really appreciate that even in this difficult situation with the president suffering from Covid and being in isolation, he is looking for ways to lead talks with ministerial candidates,” Mr Fiala said.

“The president has assured me that the talks will begin tomorrow and will be held in the same format in which I met the president today.”

A heavy smoker, Mr Zeman has suffered frequent health problems. On election day, he cancelled a trip to the polling station and had a ballot box brought to him by officials.

Nonetheless, he said this month that he felt fit to complete his second five-year term, which ends in 2023.

Updated: November 28th 2021, 5:16 PM