LRT English Newsletter – March 27, 2020
It is week two of the coronavirus quarantine in Lithuania and the pandemic, here as elsewhere, is picking up speed. The number of confirmed cases has gone up from 63 last Friday to over 300 and Lithuania reported first Covid-19 deaths: a woman passed away last Friday, followed by three more people mid-week.
Three out of four coronavirus victims were reported in Ukmergė, a town in northeast of the country, where the local hospital seems to be the locus of the spread, with an alarming number of health care workers diagnosed with the disease. As the situation is “changing not by day, but by the hour,” according to a vice health minister, the region might be isolated. The government decided on Thursday not to do it yet, though.
As the case count rose, the authorities stepped up the response measures. The government extended the quarantine until at least Easter, while the health minister, unhappy with how people were observing self-isolation rules, decided that all travelers arriving in Lithuania will be put into accommodation provided by local authorities for two weeks. The sudden measure led to some chaos and fist-fighting, only to be recalled two days later.
WHAT WE DO AT HOME
Meanwhile we, ordinary folks, are getting used to life under quite extraordinary circumstances. Some of us are posing for a drone-mounted camera through the window and changing our shopping habits, while penguins are enjoying some freedom in Lithuania’s emptied out Sea Museum.
As school students are getting ready for classes online, the need to exchange classrooms for computers has revealed that about one tenth of Lithuanian schoolchildren do not have access to the internet at home.
And those of us who do, and are conducting much of our professional lives via the internet, have been warned about hostile attacks on communication networks.
Moreover, it seems that Russia is conducting a coordinated disinformation campaign to exploit the pandemic. One piece of fake news targeted Lithuania’s defence minister.
Lithuanian diaspora groups on Facebook, in particular, are also convenient hosts for the coronavirus disinformation.
BATTLE OF NUMBERS
It is pretty clear that Lithuania’s economy will be hit by the coronavirus quarantine, but economists give wildly divergent estimates about how much, sometimes revising their own numbers from one week to another. Lithuania’s GDP may contract 5 percent, says Swedbank, while the central bank gives a range between 3.4 and 21 percent – a markedly more dire scenario than the 1.2 percent they proposed only a week ago.
Meanwhile the government is upping its game, too, proposing a 2-billion-euro financial assistance package to shore up the economy.
Regulating the prices is also an option, says the prime minister. Meanwhile the country’s employers would prefer less regulation, arguing that the situation warrants suspending some labour regulations, like the 8-hour workday.
While all efforts are now on containing the spread of the virus, our reader, Prof. Robert van Voren of Vytautas Magnus University, asks if we’re not willing to give up too much.
Would you like to contribute to LRT English? Please send your suggestions, submissions, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Benas Gerdžiūnas
Edited by Justinas Šuliokas