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2020.04.08 14:32

Lithuanian government extends quarantine, makes facemasks mandatory

updated
Ignas Jačauskas, BNS2020.04.08 14:32

The Lithuanian government decided on Wednesday to extend the existing quarantine for another two weeks, tightening some restrictions while relaxing others.

“The quarantine is extended until the midnight of April 27," Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga, who proposed the motion, told a government sitting.

Read more: Lithuania bans intercity travel over Easter weekend

Wearing facemasks in public, which has been a recommendation so far, will be mandatory from Friday. However, Veryga said later on Friday that the rule is flexible, and people can use scarves and other means to cover their faces.

Meanwhile some restrictions will be eased. The government decided to allow selling plants, seeds and fertilizers in open-air markets.

While maintaining international travel ban, Lithuania will allow entry to foreigners who are immediate family – parents, children, spouses, foster parents – to Lithuanian citizens. Until now, only permanent residents, diplomats or international transportation workers were allowed to enter the country.

However, tighter controls will apply to drivers of commercial vehicles, if they are found to have fever or other coronavirus symptoms at border checkpoints. According to Veryga, the change “would allow to stop them at the border”.

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said that quarantine restrictions could be eased after Easter, if there is no sharp increase in new infections. Some small businesses could be allowed to reopen, provided they can ensure safety.

Read more: Lithuania to extend quarantine, but some shops may reopen – prime minister

Lithuania was placed under quarantine on March 16 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Schools, kindergartens, universities were closed, along with most non-essential customer servicing businesses.

Lithuanian residents ordered to wear facemasks in public, flouters face fines

Under the rules, all people must wear "means of protection (facemasks, respirators or others) to cover their nose and mouth," according to the government.

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis urged not to take the rules in absolute terms. "If you're walking alone in the forest," a mask may not be necessary, he said. "But if a person is approaching and there's a possibility of contact, such protection must definitely be worn," he added.

The rules were tightened to make people accustomed to wearing personal protective equipment, the prime minister said.

"We don’t want to punish people, but we want to make people accustomed to [wearing protective equipment], especially" as some businesses might be allowed to reopen "in the future," he said.

Skvernelis also claimed the supply of medical masks is increasing, and "we are giving several days for people to buy them".

He also asked officers not to rush into punishing people without masks.

"I hope officers will be very polite and principled when ensuring compliance and will not rush into issuing fines. That's not the goal or the requirement. We just need to consider every person and situation individually, wisely and responsibly, and take other measures defined by the law only in exceptional cases," Skvernelis said.

"But if people are warned but still refuse to wear a mask, then officers have the right to apply sanctions," he said.

Fines for flouting quarantine requirements now range between 500 to 1,000 euros for individuals, while businesses and legal entitites can be fined between 1,500 and 6,000 euros.

The Lithuanian police said on Wednesday 350 people had been fined since Friday. As officers can lower penalties for first-time offenders, most of them had to pay 250 euros.