News

2020.07.31 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: Mask up, again

Justinas Šuliokas, LRT.lt2020.07.31 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – July 31, 2020

With over 100 new coronavirus infections confirmed over the past week, there is a palpable sense that the pandemic might be resurging. Lithuania’s health minister, who leads the country’s Covid-19 response, has even agreed to cut his five-week holidays (to four) and check in every Friday. Meanwhile the members of the cabinet who are not on a break decided to bring back mandatory facemasks.

As of Saturday, one must wear a mask in shopping malls, supermarkets and on public transport, though not in restaurants, theatre or sports games. The government has insisted that business lockdowns – like in March–May – are not in the plans.

Meanwhile Lithuania’s epidemiologists are sounding the alarm: the infection rate has gone up and an alarming number of new cases could not be traced to any known clusters. “Imported” infections are also on the rise, prompting the government to expand its blacklist of coronavirus-affected countries.

ECHOES OF THE POLISH ELECTION

In the wake of the Polish presidential campaign, which involved a fair deal of LGBTQ-bashing, our contributor Simonas Bartulis considers the role of moral panics in the politics of countries like Poland and Lithuania. A convenient way of diverting attention from more complex issues, scapegoating vulnerable groups has not always been successful.

AMERICAN BOOTS ON THE BALTIC GROUND

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has hinted this week that some of the American troops to be withdrawn from Germany might be redeployed to the Baltics, as well as Poland.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s defence minister has said that an American battalion is coming for an extended rotation. First, the US troops will take part in training in Pabradė this September, after which they might be deployed again for more than half a year.

LUBLIN TRIANGLE

The foreign ministers of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine signed a declaration this week, pledging to form a trilateral platform for political, economic and social cooperation. Number one task on the agenda is to resist Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Pointedly, the declaration was signed in the Polish town of Lublin, a locale associated with the formation of the historic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which included sizable parts of present-day Ukraine, too.

ECONOMY IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

Lithuania’s national statistics office released last quarter’s GDP figures this week. Even though the Lithuanian economy contracted 3.7 percent (compared to Q2 of 2019), it is not the dip everyone had feared. Contrary to earlier statements, this does not seem to be a downturn on the scale of the 2008–2009 crisis, Statistics Lithuania chief has said.

Unlike a decade ago, the government was quick to deploy economic stimulus, which may explain a softer landing. However, Finance Minister Vilius Šapoka has hinted that he will be pushing for more austerity. Lithuania’s debt-to-GDP ratio is approaching 50 percent, he said, and it might be hard to stop it from crossing the eurozone’s 60-percent red line.

Meanwhile recent surveys suggest that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed about a third of Lithuanians into a worse financial situation and even more felt their emotional health deteriorated because of it.

RACE BETWEEN PRIME MINISTERS

Lithuania's main ruling and opposition parties have both increased their lead in opinion polls and are neck and neck ahead of October's general elections. Almost a third of voters, however, are undecided or plan not to vote at all, a survey shows.

Both the ruling Farmers and Greens Union and the opposition conservatives have picked their lead candidates – who would presumably be prime ministers in case of victory – which may explain the boost in their poll numbers, a sociologist says.

OLYMPIC RUNWAY

After Lithuania’s National Olympic Committee presented the uniforms that Lithuanian athletes are going to wear at the 2021 Tokyo Games, some of the country’s leading fashion designers shared their less-than-generous – and at times vicious – comments about the outfits.

“It looks like it was designed by someone with Daltonism,” said one, while another opined that the design was a “primitive decision, catastrophic retardation”.

The author of the designs, Oksana Ragauskienė, responded that she was proud of her work and that it would help the Lithuanian team stand out in Tokyo.

EDITORS’ PICKS

– Corona-sceptics continue to argue that the virus only kills the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions. But is it really so, inquires LRT FACTS.

– Did you know that there is a Paris, a London and a Venice just a short drive from Kaunas? A Lithuanian newlywed couple have decided to travel to these places for their honeymoon.

– A video making rounds on social media this month hit a sensitive spot in Lithuanian and Polish history, but does it really show what it purports?

– The expressionist painter Lasar Segall is known as the ‘Brazilian modernist from Vilnius’. His work is dominated by portraits of Brazilian people and landscapes of jungle or favelas.

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