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Lithuania takes heavy hit from COVID-19, although the patient toll is least in the Baltics

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The nasty novel virus, known as COVID-19, has wreaked havoc across various Lithuanian industries, although the toll of the Lithuanians infected with the coronavirus, at 36 as of Thursday afternoon, is relatively modest to what Latvia and especially Estonia, the other two Baltic neighbours are seeing.

On Thursday, March 19, there were 86 cases of the virus in Latvia and 263 people have tested positive for it in Estonia.

Lithuania under quarantine

Lithuania has been under quarantine for two weeks as of March 16. Mandatory self-isolation includes zero arrival of foreigners into the country, except people delivering goods, crew members, family members of Lithuanian citizens, people who have the right to live and work in Lithuania.  Meanwhile, Lithuanian citizens are not allowed to leave the country, unless they live or work abroad.

Under the measure, people must self-isolate for two weeks after returning from any foreign country. All educational institutions are closed for two weeks and schools are scrambling to get prepared for teaching remotely. All shops – except supermarkets, pharmacies, specialized veterinary pharmacies, and grocery marketplaces – are closed, too. Cafes and bars are in lockdown, too, while all public events, both outdoor and indoor, are banned. Public administration institutions provide services remotely and only very limited public services are given the usual way. Besides, planned surgeries have been postponed, unless they are necessary. Hotels still stay open, but there are increasing calls to shut them down, too.

Up to 6,000 Lithuanians are believed are stranded abroad, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday morning.

All but one cases contracted abroad

All but one cases confirmed in Lithuania so far are thought to have been contracted abroad.  A middle-aged patient in Panevėžys, who is placed on the lung ventilation device, is considered to be in the gravest condition among the others. However, the contraction of the virus by a doctor of Šeškinė Polyclinic in Vilnius is perhaps the most alarming, as the medic had over 60 face-to-face interactions with her patients over the stretch of one week. Vilnius Municipality mulls to shut down the facility until all the patients and medics that the infected doctor has come across are tested for the virus.

Following complaints from patients and their family members, the ministry will no longer release patients’ gender and age details. As of Wednesday noon, Vilnius has opened two mobile coronavirus screenings units in specially equipped ambulances. Such an ambulance has been stationed on Thursday noon in central Klaipeda too.

State to pump 5.4 bn euro into economy

Facing an unprecedented challenge to the economy, Seimas, Lithuanian legislature, has increased this week the state’s net borrowing limit from 904.6 million to 5.4 billion euros as additional funds which will help mitigate the coronavirus crisis’ impact on the Lithuanian economy. The total value of commitments assumed in 2020 will not be able to exceed 500 million euros. Finance Minister Vilius Šapoka says the Government will borrow the sum both in Lithuania and in international markets. He also added that 5.4 billion euros is not the final amount.

«We have turned to international organizations to be the first in line, if that was necessary,” he was quoted by Lithuanian media. It is believed that Lithuanian economy will shrink from 1.2 to 2.8 per cent this year due to coronavirus.

Economy will inevitably shrink

The Seimas has also approved key economic measures to help businesses and workers to alleviate detrimental fallout from the coronavirus crisis. The lawmakers decided to pay subsidies to employers who would preserve jobs during downtime as a result of the pandemic. They will receive subsidies of two sizes to pay their workers. The subsidy will amount to 60 per cent of a salary for those businesses whose activity was not banned because of an emergency situation or quarantine but restricted for various reasons. Employers would have to pay the remaining amount from their own funds. Such a subsidy would need around 300 million euros from the state budget. The second subsidy would amount to 90 per cent if a business’s activity was completely suspended, and employers would have to pay the remaining 10 per cent. There are no calculations as yet on how much funds the state would need for this kind of subsidy. In both cases, subsidies would not exceed the minimum monthly salary in Lithuania, now standing at 607 euros. And employers would be required to pay 10 or 40 per cent in additional to that amount.

Parents staying home to look after children during the quarantine period will be eligible for full sick leave benefits, under the amendments. Up until now, parents could receive sickness benefits for children only for two weeks if an educational establishment was placed under quarantine. All 100 MPs who attended the vote supported the changes. The amendments will come into force once President Gitanas Nausėda signs them.

Many sectors send calls of distress

Amid the crisis, many sectors are sending calls of distress, asking the Government for help. Construction sector laments that it feels shortage of materials and workforce. Besides, with notaries closed, real estate deals came to an abrupt halt. With ca 600 thousand Lithuanians believed to be ill-affected by the crisis in the long run, part of them will inevitably default on mortgage payments. The good news is that people who lose at least a third of their income due to the coronavirus crisis will be able to defer their loan payments. Under the law, banks and other credit institutions will have to defer loan payments for at least three months. But then what?

As the supply chains are cracking, retailers are anxious that they will be unable to stock shelves every day, especially with the frenzy of massive hoarding of goods. There is up to 50-60 per cent increase in buying groceries and medicines, Lithuanian media reported.

Queues of trucks have cleared on the Lithuanian-Polish border by Thursday morning after Polish border guards expedited their checking procedures. A massive tailback of vehicles had stretched 35 kilometres from the border on Wednesday evening.

With advertisers overwhelmingly cancelling airing of their advertisements, various Lithuanian organisations asked government institutions to defer tax payments and provide state subsidies to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis. The total adverting market contraction is estimated to stand at 60 million euros a year, media representatives say.

Empty streets

During the ordeal, Lithuanian cities and towns have eerily emptied during quarantine, with local businesses embracing for the impact of the malady.

«The situation is akin to that we had during 2008-2009 crisis. Our factory is working, but we are storing our production for internet sales, which have upped significantly over the last couple of weeks. We are fortunate not to have supply problems so far. Obviously, service sector will be hit hardest,» Sigitas Gailiūnas, director general of «Lietkabelis» and president of the Trade, Industry and Crafts in Panevėžys in north-eastern Lithuania, told BNN.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian resorts, including the country‘s Baltic resort of Palanga, are likely to deal with the severest aftermaths of the COVID-19 crisis. «The cancellations of hotel booking are huge, even for the months of June and July,» Ingrida Valaitienė, president of Palanga‘s Hotel and Restaurant Association, told BNN. If the virus spins out of control in the country, Palanga hotels would be turned into coronavirus patients‘ care centres, according to the plans.

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  1. simon says:

    In ignorance, people are not afraid of terrorism but afraid of low-risk coronation like the common cold

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