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2020.02.14 10:02

Coronavirus: Lithuania may introduce Schengen border checks

Austėja Masiokaitė-Liubinienė, BNS2020.02.14 10:02

As Lithuania considers additional measures to prevent the coronavirus spread, a health vice minister said the country may introduce checks on travelers crossing the border by road.

According to Algirdas Šešelgis, who heads the Health Ministry's Emergency Operations Centre, Lithuania would not be putting any restrictions on movement, but only “certain controls and checks, just as we have at airports”.

Read more: Coronavirus may reach Lithuania, says health minister

He added that Lithuania would consider introducing any control mechanism agreed on among European Union ministers who met in Brussels on Thursday.

Checks on the roads would be a complicated procedure, according to Šešelgis, requiring 24-hour posts and a large number of health specialists on duty. Moreover, their protection and the legal right to stop vehicles would have to be addressed, he said.

Šešelgis told LRT English on Friday that the question of internal Schengen controls would only be introduced if Lithuania had more than several coronavirus case in Lithuania, "similarly as in Germany, for example".

"It's more of a consideration and a perspective" looking ahead, he added.

Countries can only introduce Schenzen Zone controls under speicifc legal conditions.

Currently, Lithuania has introduced checks at the country's three airports and the Klaipėda seaports. These, Šešelgis said, help to identify and isolate possible coronavirus COVID-19 cases, but do not prevent the virus from coming to Lithuania.

The Health Ministry will receive preliminary information about the EU's recommendations on Friday and decisions can be made on Monday, according to the official.

Demand for face masks

The spread of the new coronavirus has increased the demand for medical face masks across the world.

Lithuanian pharmacies have told BNS the demand for face masks has gone up significantly, but they have sufficient stocks and are taking action to prevent shortages.

“We had a flu epidemic around this time last year, but now people buy five or six times more [face masks],” Džeraldas Kauneckas of the Gintarinė Vaistinė pharmacy chain said. “There's been a significant increase. The interesting thing is that people buy [...] whole boxes of 50 masks.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Lithuanians ‘clearing out’ stocks of face masks

The demand so high is unusual, he said, but the chain is looking for ways to make additional orders and make sure there's enough face masks for everyone.

The Eurovaistinė pharmacy chain said on Tuesday sales of face masks had increased twelve-fold.

“We have over 30,000 face masks at our pharmacies. The amounts will treble tomorrow. We are in constant contact with suppliers,” Laura Bielskė, a spokeswoman for the chain, said in a statement.

Rasa Marcinkevicienė, the managing director of BENU Vaistinė Lietuva, said the chain's pharmacies are feeling the coronavirus scare.

“We saw the biggest increase in medical masks sales in late January and early February [when they] jumped ten times,” she said, adding that the demand has stabilised.

People ask to be tested

As news of the new coronavirus coincided with the flu season, Emergency Response Centre (ERC) has received more calls from concerned people.

According to Šešelgis, a growing number of people want to be tested for the new virus, despite having no indication they could be infected.

“Hospital managers we have talked to say there's a slightly higher number of people who want to be tested [for the coronavirus] preventively, but they see absolutely no reason for taking samples and sending them to the laboratory,” the vice minister said.

If a person has flu symptoms, but has not visited China, they should not be concerned about the coronavirus, he said.

Vilma Juozevičiūtė, a spokeswoman for the ERC, said there had been 16 calls since January 25 from people who were concerned they might have the coronavirus.

There have also been 18 calls when people had various questions or wanted additional information about the coronavirus, and they were given phone numbers for consultations.

The National Public Health Centre said 32 people have turned to medical establishments in Lithuania since January 27 over suspicions they might have the coronavirus. Five of them underwent specific tests for the new virus. Four tests came back negative, one is still pending.

Twenty-seven people have been under surveillance, with one in self-isolation.

Since January 27, the NPHC has provided over 10,200 consultations, including dozens to hospitals, airports, municipalities and other establishments.

Read more: Coronavirus crisis: Lithuanian logistics and shipment companies to take a hit