BNN ANALYSES | Despite fewer Covid-19 cases Lithuania toughens facemask wearing rules

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Although new Covid-19 cases have edged down by third since a month ago, the liberal-conservative Lithuanian government is not taking a chance – new restrictions aiming to curb the virus spread went into force this week and some other may be on the way if the situation deteriorates.
The government also hinted that, with the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care reaching 215, some more harsher restrictions would be applied on business. As of the beginning of the week, 143 persons were in intensive care.
For now, the authorities count on the benefits of a more encompassing use of face masks.
As of Tuesday, November 16, they have again become mandatory in Lithuania’s schools, except for primary students and kindergartners under six.
Facemasks for primary school children may become mandatory from December 1. However, the government is yet to make such a decision.
As of Wednesday, November 17, unvaccinated people who had contact with someone stricken by the virus will be obligated to go into self-isolation.
Only those will be required to self-isolate who got inoculated more than four months (120 days) before.
People who had contact with a Covid-19 carrier will be required to get tested three days after the contact and have to self-isolate until a negative PCR test result is received, the country’s Health ministry decided.
The Health Ministry said it updated the rules following new recommendations from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
However, not the inevitable wider use of protective face gear was exasperating many Lithuanians this week.
The government’s intent to introduce the national Covid-19 certificate, known mostly as the Opportunity Pass, to children aged over 12 has frightened and angered some parents.
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On Monday, a handful of barefoot protesters staged a rally against the proposal in Daukanto square where the presidential palace is.
According to protest organisers, introducing Covid-19 certificates for minors would discriminate against them and would cause psychological distress.
In Lithuania, the Opportunity Pass is issued to people over 16 who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 210 days, have tested negative for coronavirus using a PCR or an antigen test, or have been fully vaccinated.
The certificate is required to access indoor cafes, restaurants, shops, and other services.
«Limiting children’s opportunities is one of the risk factors for discrimination. They will not be able to go on school trips, go to events, the hairdresser, or the gym. I think this is wrong and illegal,» Vitalija Jankauskaitė, the organiser of the protest, was quoted by Lithuanian media.
«I don’t know if there is a politician who wants to go down in the history books as a person who introduced children’s discrimination and segregation,» she added.
Asked why mothers protested barefoot, Jankauskaitė said that it symbolised that they came with peace.
She also regretted that, on the previous day, with the protestors clamouring against the idea at the Government building, no one came out to speak to them.
Referring to an event from over two weeks ago when President Gitanas Nausėda invited a mother of  a gay son to speak to him, Jankauskaitė suggested the parents who do not wish to see their children vaccinated against Covid-19 should also receive the same treatment.
The official part of the protest has not started yet, when she was invited along with some other parents to talk to Nausėda‘s representatives inside the palace.
The mother claimed they «found common ground» with them on the issue of children vaccination.
The Lithuanian president is being portrayed as hesitant to the government‘s far-reaching vaccination programme.
Last week, Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, rejected President Nausėda’s veto of a bill requiring unvaccinated workers to pay for their compulsory regular Covid-19 testing as of December.
This means that the amendments to the Law on the Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases in Humans will take effect on December 1.
Pursuant to the law, unvaccinated workers in some sectors, including healthcare, education, catering and public administration, and military personnel are required to get tested for Covid-19 every seven to ten days. The testing costs are currently covered by the state. Under the new legislation, regular testing of these workers will have to be paid for by the workers themselves or their employers.
But according to the Education, Science and Sport Ministry, children will not be asked to show a Covid certificate when going to school or participating in non-formal education.
Health minister Arūnas Dulkys has said that the government will decide on Wednesday whether to introduce Covid certificates to children aged over 12.
Apprehensions that coronavirus infections would rise following the long weekend around the All Souls’ Day have not come true, Dulkys has said this week, adding that the current wave of the pandemic has peaked.
Meanwhile, same MPs said this week that the 100-euro vaccination bonus payment program has proven to be effective and could be continued and expanded to include other age groups.
The government is now offering a one-time payment of 100 euros to persons aged 75 and over who get fully vaccinated between early September and late November, and fully inoculated seniors who take their booster shot by the end of March.
Lithuania registered 2,151 new coronavirus infections and 19 deaths from Covid-19 over Tuesday, the country’s statistics office said on Wednesday, November 17.
The 14-day infection rate has edged down to 1,196 per 100,000 people over the past 24 hours and the seven-day percentage of positive tests has fallen to 12.4 percent.
Both numbers have been edging down since the start of last week.