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Netanyahu to host Hungarian, Czech counterparts to discuss COVID cooperation

Viktor Orban and Andrej Babis will meet Israeli premier a week before national election, which he has staked on his ability to bring vaccines to Jewish state

Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babis, left, welcomes his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban for the V4 summit at the Lednice Chateau in Lednice, Czech Republic, June 11, 2020. (AP Photo/ Petr David Josek)
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babis, left, welcomes his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban for the V4 summit at the Lednice Chateau in Lednice, Czech Republic, June 11, 2020. (AP Photo/ Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The Czech and Hungarian prime ministers will visit Israel this week to gain know-how on COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccine production, the Czech government said on Tuesday.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban are due to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

“Israel is a leader in technologies. It is our traditional partner. I think it will be a very useful visit,” Babis said in a statement, adding that he would visit a large vaccination center in Jerusalem.

Israel has given the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot to roughly 40 percent of its 9.29-million population, while both the Czech Republic and Hungary have been struggling with their vaccine roll-outs.

The visit will take place just a week before Israelis go to the polls, in an election that Netanyahu has fought by highlighting his vaccination record, while trying to underplay the three national lockdowns Israel has faced over the past year due to surging infection rates.

The Hungarian news agency MTI quoted Orban’s spokesman Bertalan Havasi as saying he expected to “form a closer cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus” during the trilateral meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban hold a joint press conference at the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary on July 18, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/File)

“The main topic of the meeting will be the effort to curb the pandemic,” Havasi said.

The Czech Republic topped the world’s statistics for COVID-19 infections per capita over the past two weeks and was second in new deaths, according to an AFP tally based on official data.

Hungary is eighth and fourth in the rankings, respectively.

Last week, Israel agreed on a research and development fund with Austria and Denmark to develop and produce future-generation coronavirus vaccines.

Babis said he will discuss his country’s participation in the fund during the visit.

In his quest to boost vaccinations in his country and bypass bottlenecks in European Union supplies, Babis recently visited Hungary and Serbia, which are using the Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Jerusalem on February 19, 2019. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Czech President Milos Zeman meanwhile asked Russian and Chinese leaders for supplies of the two vaccines and announced that they had both said yes.

However, a recent poll has shown Czechs are reluctant to take these vaccines, which have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

During the visit, Babis will also open a Czech diplomatic office in Jerusalem.

Just like most other countries, the Czech Republic has its embassy in Tel Aviv, pending a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

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