LRT English Newsletter – April 24, 2020
With daily new coronavirus infections reported in the 20s and 30s, Lithuanian officials are optimistic: testing has been ever high, while positive results ever low, even if the Covid-19 hotspot town of Nemenčinė remains sealed off until Friday night.
So the government decided to move on with easing more restrictions: all shops, including in shopping malls, are now allowed to reopen. On Monday, the heartily-missed services are also free to open their doors: beauty salons, hairdressers, libraries and museums, outdoor bars and restaurants.
The proviso, however, is that they all must ensure distances between clients, who will still be required to wear facemasks – except while they eat.
But is it too soon? A second wave of the virus is very likely, Lithuania’s chief epidemiologist warned this week.
DO THEY MEAN BUSINESS?
Meanwhile the country’s businesses have been feeling the hit – and some struggle to access the funds promised by the government. Only a small fraction of the financial aid has reached the pockets of employers and employees, with state officials promising to do better.
And the support cannot come too soon. Around 30,000 people were laid off already, the Lithuanian social security minister said this week, while if we include all those on furlough and sick leave, one sixth of the country’s working population are not working.
Even those who are, feel the pressure. Truck drivers of Girteka, one of Europe’s biggest logistics companies, staged a protest this week, incensed by lower pay for the same workload.
At least those of us with mortgages will be able to make use of “loan holidays”: banks have agreed to postpone housing loan repayments for up to a year, though they’ll still charge interest.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EARTH
Fifty years after the first annual Earth Day, it is a good occasion to consider what future we want for the planet, says our returning contributor Elena Lazutkaitė. Our recovery from the pandemic-induced economic crisis can – and should – be green.
FRIENDS (SORT OF) AGAIN
You may recall Lithuanian leaders firing some harsh criticism at the Belarusian government for its lax handling of the coronavirus epidemic. Several weeks later, Lithuanian President Nausėda said that Minsk’s “liberal” approach had changed and even held a phone conversation with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko – the first direct contact between state leaders of the two countries in a decade.
While the Astravyets NPP remains a sore point, Lithuania has offered to share medical supplies with Belarus to help the country with the epidemic.
MEDICS IN REACTOR
What’s it like working on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic? In an interview with LRT.lt, Rimvydas Tumas of Panevėžys Republican Hospital describes what it is like putting on protective gear – and says the last time the country’s doctors experienced something like it was during the Soviet aggression against civilian Lithuanians in 1991.
Additionally, a hospital in Vilnius documented its effort against Covid-19 in photos.
GAON TURNS 300
The year 2020 in Lithuania has been dedicated to the Vilna Gaon. This week saw the 300th anniversary of the 18-century Jewish sage whose fame turned Vilnius into the ‘Jerusalem of the North’.
A group of Lithuanian politicians and public figures have asked President Nausėda to back Taiwan, the island country claimed by Beijing to be part of China. Taiwan never recognised Lithuania’s occupation by the USSR, the signatories of the public letter argue, and now it is time to return the favour.
The president responded that Lithuania is very much open to cooperating with Taiwan, and making use of its experience of successfully fighting the coronavirus, but will not back its membership in the World Health Organization.
– At the height of the Cold War, European countries used to be prepared for health emergencies. Now, they have ignored lessons of history at their own peril, argues Professor Robert van Voren from Vytautas Magnus University.
– Amid a worldwide scramble for Chinese respirators and medical supplies, Lithuanian importers and authorities are left dealing with sub-quality goods and forged documents, reports LRT Investigation Team.
– Is Lithuania trying to sell Russophobia to get more money from the EU, as one Russian tabloid claims? And what are parliamentary resolutions needed for anyway? The latest installment of LRT FACTS.
– Take a look at the second video introducing Lithuania’s most prominent painters of the 20th century. Vincentas Gečas was a contradictory personality – a brilliant artist who also spoke out against too much artistic freedom.
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Written by Justinas Šuliokas
Edited by Benas Gerdžiūnas