2021.02.23 12:47

Government health advisers suggest easing facemask restrictions outdoors, extending lockdown

BNS2021.02.23 12:47

A panel of health experts advising the Lithuanian government has suggested easing restrictions on facemasks outdoors. However, they have also suggested allowing only medical masks and respirators to be worn in public.

"We propose that [...] facemasks should be worn in open spaces only when there are other people within two meters," Professor Mindaugas Stankūnas of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) told reporters on Tuesday.

"We also recommend discarding various alternative face coverings, such as scarves or shields, and wearing only medical masks or respirators," he added.

If the government approves the proposal, face shields, fabric facemasks and similar coverings will no longer be allowed in public places.

"We believe that they aren't effective enough, which has been shown by studies and our consultations with other experts [...] who say that their effectiveness is very low," Stankūnas said.

Discussions are also underway about making it mandatory to wear respirators in certain settings, especially while providing close contact services, but no decisions have been made yet, he added.

Extending lockdown

The panel has also recommended extending the existing lockdown.

"Yesterday, [...] all members of the expert council unanimously agreed that the measure should be extended," Vaidotas Grigas, a member of the panel, told reporters on Tuesday.

The recommendation reflects the recent statistics showing that the daily number of new coronavirus cases has stopped falling.

"This is certainly not a third wave [...], but this is worrying," he said.

Although the situation has significantly improved, the numbers of new cases and hospitalisations have stopped declining, Grigas noted.

It will be up to the cabinet to decide for how long to keep the lockdown in place.

"Our proposal was not to limit it to a week," he said. "We've left it to the government to decide. Our recommendation [is to extend it] for a longer period of time."

However, the recommendation to extend the lockdown will not prevent the government from further relaxing the restrictions, provided that it does so gradually, according to Grigas.

The lockdown, in place since mid-December, was last extended until February 28.