This Week In Lithuania – November 20

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

As of November 19, Lithuania reported 1,680 new coronavirus cases, with 18 deaths over the previous 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. Over 13,000 people were tested for the coronavirus that day. Hospitals are currently treating 1,437 people with Covid-19, 109 of them are in intensive care.

A total of 40,492 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Lithuania since the pandemic began. The country currently has over 30,000 active cases and more than 10,000 recoveries. The coronavirus death toll has reached 341, and 86,121 people are in isolation.

Lithuanian Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga said he will request the government to extend the nationwide quarantine for at least three weeks, perhaps longer.

Doctors warn that with a growing shortage of Covid-19 beds and doctors, the Lithuanian healthcare system is close to collapse. Five major hospitals in the country were working almost at their full capacity. Despite Lithuania’s National Public Health Center (NVSC) request for more funding, the government has instead opted for cost-cutting efforts, according to the head of the centre, Robertas Petraitis.

Due to a recent uptick in new cases, NVSC has been left unable to efficiently trace the spread of the infection. The centre has also faced staff shortages, brought about by employees who have resigned over low pay, immense public pressure, and unlimited working hours. According to Petraitis, only 594 out of 692 vacancies at the NVSC are currently filled. Another 98 could be employed this year, if funding was increased.

Meanwhile, speaker of parliament Viktorijai Čmilytė-Nielsen has tested positive for the coronavirus, although she felt no symptoms and met with Polish president Andžej Duda and Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda this past week. As they were taking the necessary precautions, the NVSC assessed the situation as low-risk. Prime ministerial candidate Ingrida Šimonytė is working remotely while awaiting test results, and defense minister Raimundas Karoblis is in isolation with his family but has no symptoms.

Expanded Sanctions on Belarus Officials

Due to the regime’s growing repressions in Belarus, EU foreign ministers have agreed to expand the existing sanctions on its officials and their financial backers, reported the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. During the EU Foreign Council meeting, Lithuania’s outgoing Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius emphasized that pressure must be increased on the Belarusian government and a third package of EU sanctions must be adopted as soon as possible in response to the “moral and political deadlock” in Belarus. Over 25,000 peaceful protesters have been detained and there is ongoing widespread persecution, said Linkevičius. “The only way out is a new and free election.”

 Opposition Leader Steps Down

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the opposition Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), is giving up his seat in parliament in protest against the ruling coalition. Earlier this week, the Lithuanian parliament voted down the LVŽS’s candidate for one of the six deputy speaker positions. Two of the positions are traditionally reserved for the opposition. As the largest opposition group in the parliament, and the second overall, the LVŽS insists it was unfairly snubbed by the ruling majority. The party, which was in government until October’s elections, said it refused to take part in “the political farce” and lost trust in the ruling majority.

Food Couriers to Strike

Two hundred couriers working for the food delivery service Bolt Food have formed a union and presented their demands for improved working conditions to the company on Tuesday. The newly-formed union, Couriers’ Association, announced  that unless the company responds, the couriers are considering going on strike. According to the association, Bolt Food refuses to release official figures of how many couriers it employs and keeps contracting new ones to keep rates low. One of the demands presented to Bolt Food head Andrius Pacevičius, is to set the base rate of 3.5 euros per delivery. According to the statement, the current rate is 3 euros, but it was lowered to 2.8 during the summer.

The Association confirms that at the moment, Bolt does not sign either employment or service agreements with its couriers and therefore can unilaterally change delivery rates. The couriers also demand the option to choose between per-delivery compensation and a stable hourly rate. Last July, couriers working for Bolt Food, one of the two main food delivery services in the country, staged a strike over rate cuts.

With news from LRT.lt and Alkas.lt