Injections and conscience: Latvia lacks coronavirus vaccines

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Vaccination against COVID-19 in Latvia began at the end of 2020. However, only 1.6% of Latvians were able to complete the vaccination cycle at the end of April. The point is that only representatives of “priority groups” (pensioners, doctors, etc.) are still vaccinated, and the fact that, according to numerous testimonies of the country’s residents, there is complete confusion in the matter of vaccination. As a result, the population grumbles – collective immunity in the country is growing too slowly and people are forced to continue to bear the burden of quarantine. On top of all the trouble, April 22 Prime Minister of Latvia Krisjanis Karins made a proposal to end support for businesses affected by the pandemic. Details – in the material “Izvestia”.

“Strategic mistake”

The spring quarantine of 2020 caused serious damage to the Latvian economy, led to an increase in unemployment – and the government did not want to go through it all over again. But when from October in Latvia the number of cases again began to grow rapidly, there was nowhere to go. Later, in hindsight, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins blamed the then head of the Ministry of Health Ilze Vinkele for everything and dismissed her for being slow. On November 9, a state of emergency was introduced in the country – they restricted the operation of shopping centers, banned the provision of a number of services. Initially, the state of emergency was announced until December 6, but then it was extended – first until January 11, then until February 7, then until April 7.

After April 7, the state of emergency was formally lifted, but most of the restrictions associated with it are still in effect. People are forbidden to get together if they are not members of the same family, for appearing on the street without a mask faces a fine, studies are conducted remotely (with the exception of graduation classes), only essential stores, gas stations, and pharmacies work. Latvians are tired without communication, but gathering in large companies is possible only at your own peril and risk. Every now and then there is news in the press about how the police come to the “underground” parties and impose fines on their participants of up to € 500. In response, the Latvians show aggression against the guards – they are insulted, they spit at them and even try to beat them.

Injections and conscience: Latvia lacks coronavirus vaccines

Photo: Global Look Press / Alexander Welscher / dpa

The vaccine against COVID-19 has begun to be delivered to Latvia before the new year, 2021. The first to receive the drug were doctors of hospitals, clinics and emergency medical service workers. Drugs from various Western manufacturers still enter the country in relatively small quantities. Official Riga has repeatedly pointed out this circumstance to its international partners, begging to increase supplies. But the country’s press found out that last November Latvia has notified the European Commission of its desire to purchase only 97,500 doses (for 48,759 people) of vaccines worth € 1,170,000, although more than a million doses could be reserved. The Bureau for the Prevention and Fight of Corruption (BPAC) arranged a check on the actions of officials, but as a result, it refused to initiate criminal prosecution.

After that, Prosecutor General Juris Stukans instructed to check the relevant decision of the BPAC. BUT ex-minister of health Ilze Vinkele asked the Latvians for forgiveness and admitted that she was guilty of a “strategic, political and human error.” However, she tried to shove the blame on some “experts” who suggested wrong decisions to her.

Highest priority group

Much criticism from ordinary Latvians has prompted the decision of senior officials to include themselves in the “priority group” for vaccination. In early February, President Egil Levits, all former presidents, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, other ministers, heads of parliamentary commissions and Prosecutor General Juris Stukans received the first dose of the vaccine.

The editor-in-chief of the popular magazine Ir, Nellia Lochmele, whose husband died of coronavirus a year ago, explained the actions of politicians by their cowardice. “The government, which has not made a political decision to purchase all the vaccines available to us and is responsible for their shortage, makes a political decision to vaccinate itself even before the risk groups. The pandemic is killing and tiring. I don’t even know which is more dangerous – a virus or mistakes and cowardice of politicians, ”Lochmele said.

President of Latvia Egil Levits

President of Latvia Egil Levits

Photo: Global Look Press / Edijs Palens / XinHua

Currently, a social campaign “Two million reasons to get vaccinated!” Is being carried out in Latvia. Local celebrities were attracted to participate in it: singer Laima Vaikule, actor Ivars Kalnins and others. From large billboards in crowded places, they talk about what drives them to get vaccinated against COVID-19. But in the case of a poster on which people are motivated by former Latvian football player and ex-president of the Latvian Football Federation Kaspars Gorkš, the situation turned into a scandal. The original version of the poster was made in Latvian. On it, Gorksha’s appeal is as follows: “I am getting vaccinated because I want to visit my grandparents.” The official translation of the poster into Russian reads like this: “I get vaccinated because I want to meet with my great-grandmother and great-grandfather.” Russian residents of Riga note that such a call is perceived as a deliberate mockery and can only push away from the intention to be vaccinated.

This is where a serious problem lies. The authorities have set a goal – to vaccinate at least 70% of the country’s adult population. At the same time, at least 35% of residents speak Russian. Over the past decades, the state has been consistently pursuing a course of squeezing the Russian language out of public space – and during a pandemic, this has fallen sideways. The head of the Ministry of Health, Daniel Pavluts, admits that we have special problems with communication with the Russian-speaking part of the Latvian population. Since it is tight with Russian-language TV broadcasting in Latvia, people watch Russian TV channels, despite official bans.

And now Pavluts complains that Russian-speaking Latvians do not trust Western-made vaccines and are waiting for Sputnik V. Vaccinations are slowest in Latgale – this is the region of Latvia in which there are most Russian-speaking residents. It would seem that what is simpler – if you do not want to buy a Russian vaccine, then at least contact the Russian community in its native language with explanations. But no, according to the minister, there are difficulties even with the preparation of printed materials in Russian. In addition, the State Language Center (popularly also called the linguistic inquisition) vigilantly monitors that Russian is used in the country as little as possible – threatening “violators” with fines and dismissal from work.

Injections and conscience: Latvia lacks coronavirus vaccines

Photo: Izvestia / Alexander Polegenko

And here’s the result. “We have no right to publish a newspaper simultaneously in Latvian and Russian. At the same time, there is no simple way to send written material in Russian to the Russian-speaking part of the population in conditions of personal data protection, ”complains Pavluts. In turn, the head of the Vaccination Bureau, Eva Yukhnevich, on the air of the program “Dome Square” on the Russian-language “Latvian Radio-4”, assured that her department was developing a “communication plan” with national minorities. Yukhnevich even said that the appropriate audience is “one of the main target groups” for her institution. True, on the air of the Russian-language radio, she answered the questions of the Russian presenter exclusively in Latvian.

“Should we get used to queues?”

On April 20, Ieva Sture, an employee of the Vaccination Bureau, reported to parliament members. She said that from mid-May, they will begin to distribute a special eight-page newspaper by mail, containing the necessary information on vaccination against COVID-19. To the question of the deputy Krista Baumane, whether this newspaper will be published in the Russian-language version, Sture, referring to the ban introduced by the State Language Center, answered in the negative. According to Sture, “the search for other ways to reach out to the Russian-speaking audience is currently underway”. The most “Russian” city in Latvia is Daugavpils. Not so long ago, the local vice-mayor of Libya Yankovskaya complained that many townspeople refuse to be vaccinated with anything other than Sputnik. Since, for obvious reasons, it is not necessary to count on the appearance of “Sputnik” in Daugavpils, municipal officials went for a trick. Yankovskaya promised the townspeople that at the vaccination points they will be able to choose any of the Western-made vaccines coming to Latvia. For example, after a number of deaths associated with one of the European vaccines, Latvians are naturally afraid of being vaccinated with this drug.

Medical worker at the mass vaccination center in Riga

Medical worker at the mass vaccination center in Riga

Photo: Global Look Press / Edijs Palens / XinHua

After the words of Yankovskaya were circulated by many republican media, the Minister of Health Daniel Pavluts indignantly denied them. “Daugavpils is not unique. The Daugavpils thought, perhaps, within the framework of the election campaign, did not understand something and declared that it had won something back there. This is not true, ”Pavluts said. And in Daugavpils temporary vaccination center they confirmed: “There is no possibility of choosing drugs at the moment and cannot be. It is not necessary to mislead the townspeople with such statements, who may refuse one vaccine, believing that they have the right to choose another. It’s a lie”.

For some time now, the country has tried to practice live queues. So, on April 17, in large vaccination centers in Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, Rezekne, Jelgava, Jurmala and Cesis, any resident who was ready to wait in line could receive a vaccination against COVID-19. However, a limited number of doses of drugs were allocated, so some centers closed down earlier than expected. On that day, as admitted by the Emergency Medical Service, there were cases when people standing in line at a vaccination center in the Kipsala region of Riga fainted and fainted.

On April 22, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said that it was time to think about stopping support for entrepreneurs whose business is suffering from the coronavirus crisis. However, while the government has supported the proposal of the Ministry of Finance to allocate another € 126.5 million for anti-crisis assistance to businesses – in addition to the already allocated € 320 million. Karinsh clarified that this financing is “borrowed money”. And the head of the Ministry of Finance Janis Reirs added that Latvia is moving with giant steps to the border when the amount of the state debt will be more than 50% of GDP. Reirs expressed concern that if the epidemiological situation does not improve in the fall, this will result in the most dire consequences for public finances. Therefore, you need to do everything possible to overcome the coronavirus at least by the fall.