At a brief news conference, Prymula however said he had no intention of resigning and had not violated any measures since he did not meet directly in the restaurant. His comments came after Prague city council announced it would launch “administrative proceedings” against him, Faltynek and the restaurant.

Prymula was pictured without a mask – also in breach of the rules – getting into his ministerial car beside an official driver after leaving the upmarket Rio’s restaurant in the Czech capital’s Vyšehrad district.

“Prymula literally laughs in the face of all those who accept his rules in a disciplined manner,” Blesk wrote in an accompanying article.

The damaging images appeared on Thursday, a day after the Czech Republic, with a population of 10.7 million, recorded 15,000 Covid cases, drawing a rare public apology from Babiš.

All restaurants, bars and pubs have been closed to indoor customers since last week in a government decree issued under a state of emergency introduced on 5 October and due to expire early next month but which has so far failed to stem the rising tide of Covid cases.

Prymula, 58, a reserve army colonel, took office last month with a brief to bring in tougher steps to halt a sharp reversal from the country’s relative success in controlling the pandemic’s the first wave, when it won praise for introducing an early lockdown that included regulations requiring mask-wearing in public places.

He has become renowned for stern public utterances containing pleas for the public to stay at home and show discipline to stop an escalating case load that he has warned is close to breaking the Czech health system.

The revelations prompted accusations of hypocrisy and demands, including from fellow ministers, for Prymula to resign, prompting Babiš to act.

On Thursday, there were a further 14,151 cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 133,995. Nearly 4,800 people were in hospital, 735 of them in critical condition.