Scientific and governmental stakeholders on the role of research infrastructures in addressing the coronavirus pandemic

On 15th July 2020, the conference entitled Science and Research in the Fight against the SARS-CoV-2 / Covid-19 Pandemic and subtitled Research Infrastructure as a part of the Critical Infrastructure of the State was organised under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS). The conference was held in the premises of the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the Czech Academy of Sciences with over 125 participants arriving in person to the venue. Simultaneously, the conference was broadcasted via webstream, enabling the virtual participation. Apart from the MEYS, the meeting was sponsored also by the Research, Development and Innovation Council, Czech Rectors’ Conference, and Czech Academy of Sciences. The event provided the participants with an opportunity to learn more about the importance of research infrastructure, and the science and research generally, when fighting the health and other socioeconomic impacts of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 strain outbreak and the Covid-19 pandemic. The conference participants agreed that, given the extent and intensity of the involvement of the scientific community in dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, it has become necessary to view the research infrastructure as an integral part of the state’s critical infrastructure.

Milan Hašek Auditorium, Institute of Molecular Genetics of the Czech Academy of Sciences

The mobilisation of the scientific community and research infrastructure for addressing the challenges brought by the coronavirus crisis can be, undoubtedly, viewed as one of the key elements in successful management of the Covid-19 outbreak in the Czech Republic. The knowledge expertise and research capacities, which the scientific community has contributed to numerous areas of the pandemic crisis management, are invaluable – be it the development of diagnostic tools, expanding testing capacities, producing protective equipment for front-line workers, or analysing the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. The research infrastructure passed this demanding load test. At the same time, it has proven socioeconomic benefits and, thus, the need to continue in pro-growth funding, thanks to which Czechia will not only maintain, but also further strengthen its readiness to respond to any possible future crisis requiring such knowledge solutions, as those required by the current coronavirus crisis. Public funding of education, science and research shall, therefore, be considered an investment in our future.”, stated Robert Plaga, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, at the opening of the conference.

Robert Plaga, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports

In the morning session of the conference programme, Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Industry and Trade, and Minister of Transport Karel Havlíček, and Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch delivered their opening remarks as well, followed by Petr Dvořák, 1st Vice-Chair of Council for Research, Development and Innovation. Afterwards, coordinators of academic testing for Covid-19, Marián Hajdúch, Director of Institute of Molecular and Translational Medicine, Palacký University in Olomouc, jointly with Jan Konvalinka, Vice-Rector of Charles University for Science, and research group leader at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences, presented the involvement of Czech research infrastructure in addressing the coronavirus crisis.

“The coronavirus pandemic has led everyone to quick, but functional solutions. Naturally, health protection came first. Strategic thinking and responsiveness were key to business and competitiveness. That is why we have prepared a completely new Czech Rise Up programme at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, focused on smart technological solutions, which was created in a record time, based on a prompt needs analysis.”, said Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Industry and Trade, and Minister of Transport Karel Havlíček, and added: “Owing to this, we have financially supported, for example, the 3D printing of masks, which form the body of a respirator from the Czech Technical University in Prague. The Czech mask, which meets the strictest parameters of FFP3, has passed full European certification, and thus, is, in the spirit of the Innovation Strategy of the Czech Republic, a great example of technology transfer with great export potential.”

Karel Havlíček, Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Industry and Trade, and Minister of Transport

I consider the involvement of leading research teams and scientists in resolving the coronavirus crisis crucial. The pandemic has connected us on many levels. On one hand, top experts have become part of our crisis teams and working groups. At the same time, the capacity of the research sector as such was used. That is why we highly appreciate the help of scientific laboratories in managing the pandemic. A number of academic laboratories have followed up on their own research projects and participated in the preparation of national and international projects focused on the Covid-19 disease research. We assume that the laboratories, which terminate the testing, will continue to operate under the back-up regime and, if necessary due to the unfavourable epidemiological situation, will agree with a possible activation. The research sector shall become a legitimate part of the critical infrastructure of the state.”, noted Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch.

Adam Vojtěch, Minister of Health

At the end of the morning session of the conference programme, Jan Hrušák, Chair of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), presented the mission of research infrastructures in addressing challenges across segments of the national economy, be it industry, energy, agriculture, environment, health, culture or social affairs.

“The intensive involvement of research infrastructures in addressing the impacts and consequences of the coronavirus crisis has confirmed their unquestionable potential to actively participate in the crisis management, and efficiently address today’s socioeconomic challenges by knowledge-based solutions. Therefore, research infrastructures shall not be viewed as isolated and purely scientific installations, but as environments, in which researchers interact intensively with innovators and public policy makers. In addition, research infrastructures are also of great importance for the educational sector. During the pandemic crisis, research infrastructures have once again proven to be an effective tool for meeting the needs of sectorial policies, and also demonstrated their ability to respond to acute needs, such as the current coronavirus crisis. Thus, they fulfil all preconditions for the development of knowledge-based solutions in response to any socioeconomic challenges, which the Czech, European and global societies are facing, be it the climate change mitigation, transition to the carbon-neutral economy or digitisation of industries.”, emphasized ESFRI Chair Jan Hrušák from the J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Jan Hrušák, ESFRI Chair

The afternoon session of the conference programme was opened by Eva Zažímalová, President of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Jan Málek, Vice-Chairman of the Czech Rectors’ Conference for Creative Activities, and Rector of the University of Pardubice, and Václav Velčovský, Deputy Minister for the EU and European Structural and Investment Funds, MEYS.

“The European Structural and Investment Funds have long supported development of Czech research organisations and research infrastructures. Thanks to the currently running Operational Programme Research, Development and Education (OP RDE), as well as previous operational programmes, which were implemented by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Czech research entities have been able to modernise their sites and buildings, acquire state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation, develop human resources, strengthen internationalisation and international cooperation of their R&D teams, and enhance their cross-sectorial cooperation with the application sector. Owing to these investments, scientific community of the Czech Republic has been able to become so massively involved in responding to the coronavirus crisis. It clearly illustrates the immeasurable socioeconomic benefits and impacts of the investments in research organisations and research infrastructures in the Czech Republic by use of the EU cohesion policy instruments, and also the need to preserve these investments as one of the key priorities of public investments in the Czech Republic in the future.”, pointed out Deputy Minister Václav Velčovský.

Václav Velčovský, Deputy Minister for the EU and European Structural and Investment Funds, MEYS

During the following afternoon session of the conference programme, presentations of good practice examples of applications, developed in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic by Czech research organisations from higher education and academic institutions, were presented. These focused on the development of efficient protective aids for healthcare professionals, advanced diagnostic methods for the Covid-19 infection testing, and tools for the study of highly infectious diseases such as the SARS-CoV-2. Social science initiatives were also presented, which serve to predict the impacts of pandemic measures and as an instrument for estimating their preliminary impact on the society and the economy in the Czech Republic.

The complete video-recording of the conference is available for downloading on the following website

Presentations from the conference are available for downloading (.zip).