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Covid-positive Czech president swears in new prime minister from within transparent isolation box

Czech President Milos Zeman Zeman speaks to Petr Fiala from behind the panel at the Lany Chateau outside Prague. (Roman Vondrous/AFP/Getty Images)
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Czech President Milos Zeman, who tested positive for the coronavirus and was just released from the hospital, swore in the country’s new prime minister from within a transparent cubicle.

Zeman, who was brought in on a wheelchair by a person wearing a protective suit, spoke Sunday from behind the panel at the Lany Chateau outside Prague to task center-right leader Petr Fiala, a former education minister, with forming the next government.

What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus

The president, who must isolate since his positive test, attended the small ceremony broadcast on television after a hospital in the capital discharged him over the weekend. He had just spent more than a month at the hospital for an unspecified illness when his office said he tested positive last week and he went back in for a few days. He was taken to a hospital in October, hours after the party of his political ally, billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, was narrowly defeated in the country’s general election by an opposition alliance.

In the wake of Zeman’s admission to an intensive care unit, Czech police opened an investigation last month into a “crime against the republic” after a Senate report accused senior aides of the president of concealing that he was too ill to work.

At 77 years old, Zeman, a lifelong smoker with a history of health problems, had appeared in public in a wheelchair before the October vote.

His country is now seeing a surge in covid cases with the world’s second-highest number of cases relative to population, behind neighboring Slovakia, according to Our World in Data.

Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech also announced Sunday that he had tested positive for the virus, after the government ordered bars and clubs last week to close at night and banned Christmas markets.

A deadly coronavirus outbreak gripping Europe has prompted a return in several countries to stricter curbs from the earlier days of the pandemic such as shutdowns and curfews to rein in the virus. European countries were grappling with rising cases even before omicron, the just-discovered variant with a high number of mutations, raised fresh fears last week about the global trajectory of the pandemic.

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