Government to involve additional soldiers in helping handle COVID-19 pandemic, state to purchase more protective equipment
As many as 900 soldiers will be able to get involved in assisting healthcare facilities and social care homes. The cabinet of Andrej Babiš decided on increasing this number at talks on Monday 9 November 2020. It also approved increasing the state stores of protective equipment and several legislative changes related to addressing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Up to 900 soldiers in active service will be able to get involved in working at medical facilities or residential social service facilities if their management runs into staffing problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the recommendation of the Central Crisis Staff and a request from the Ministry of Health, the Andrej Babiš government decided to amend the relevant regulation. The currently valid regulation had only freed up 360 members of the Czech Army for civilian needs, but as of 5 November this capacity had already nearly been exhausted. Meanwhile the situation with staffing seniors' homes, long-term treatment centres and other in-patient social and healthcare facilities is not improving due to the spread of COVID-19. The deployed soldiers will be used for ancillary activities related to providing care for clients or patients and the running of such facilities.
The government also approved increasing the funding earmarked for the subsidy programme for operators of facilities for children requiring immediate assistance. As a result of measures to combat the epidemic, the operators of such facilities are seeing increased operating costs, while also registering a shortfall in income from donations and collection drives. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has already paid out CZK 17.6 million in subsidies for such facilities of a total allocation of 26 million. Thus the government today approved the ministry's plan to bump this amount up to CZK 47 million in order to have sufficient funding to care for at-risk children up until the end of the year. At the same time, the maximum amount paid out per fully occupied bed and month will be raised from the current CZK 7 200 to 9 200. More in the press release of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (in Czech language).
The government additionally took under advisement the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs' plan to top up funding for the operation of crisis phone lines so it can reinforce their activity. This boost is one of seven measures approved by the Government Council for Mental Health on 4 November as a set of steps that are to help people get through the current mentally demanding period. The reinforced crisis lines are to be focused primarily on children. There are currently 33 social services in the Czech Republic authorised to provide over-the-phone crisis assistance, of those 15 lines are focused on children and young people under 26. Their operators can now apply to the MLSA for financial assistance to increase the scope of services provided and the associated increased costs. Applications can be submitted through to 30 November.
The cabinet furthermore approved increasing the crisis reserves of (protective) examination gloves stored by the Administration of State Material Reserves. The crisis reserves to date total 45 million pairs of gloves, with the ASMR having 16 million of those in its own warehouses and the rest stored by other authorities and regions. This reserve is now to double, i.e. to 90 million pairs, as it turns out that the actual consumption of these gloves is considerably higher than expected due to massive COVID-19 testing. Their availability on the market is also worsening. The Central Crisis Staff thus recommended increasing stores.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs will also receive another up to CZK 7.89 billion from the government budget reserve for sickness insurance benefits. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry has registered increased drawing of such benefits, so that as of 30 September nearly CZK 42.9 billion of the approved CZK 50.3 billion budgeted for this year had already been drawn. The ministry expects that roughly CZK 58.139 billion will be needed for paying out sickness insurance through to the end of the year.
The government also took up several legislative proposals. It approved a draft amendment to the Act on Public Health Insurance that regulates the method of payment for antigen tests. The Ministry of Health ordered these tests to be preventively conducted on a repeated basis for the patients, clients and employees of selected health and social facilities. The amendment is meant to allow health insurance companies to be able to pay the distributor directly for these testing sets, which the current legislation does not provide for.
The second legislative proposal amends the wording of the Higher Education Act so as to allow for flexible reactions to the extraordinary or crisis measures declared by the government or ministries that affect instruction at institutes of higher education. Based on the ministry's decision, post-secondary institutions would be able to adjust the method of instruction, exams or entrance exams based on current conditions. For instance it will be possible to make use of distance education, shift deadlines, alter the length of the academic year or extend the period for attesting the level of education attained for the purposes of admissions.
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