Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The good news is that the COVID-19 caseload in Lithuania has shrunk by half over the last two months. The bad news is that the particularly contagious new variant of the virus, Omicron, is already in Lithuania – as of early December 22, there were 14 Omicron cases confirmed in Lithuania so far. And the worst piece of the news is that the country, as the rest of the world, slips back into a new lockdown and uncertainty.
«Unfortunately, it seems we haven’t yet learnt lessons from the pandemic. Unless each individual starts acting accordingly – get fully vaccinated, follow the new social behaviour norms, we cannot expect a major breakthrough on the battle front. And when it comes to managing the efforts in fighting the virus, a single EU-wide policy is, sadly, not here yet and still has to be worked out,» Saulius Čaplinskas, a prominent Lithuanian epidemiologist and former director of Lithuania‘s Communicable Disease and AIDS centre (ULAC) told BNN.
«Similarly to the anti-AIDS campaigns in the 1990s, we, as a society, and every single individual have to follow and adhere to new behavioural norms, importantly overcome vaccination hesitancy, which did not go anywhere yet,» Čaplinskas said.
The well-known specialist says that the coronavirus could be compared to the measles or the 1918 breakout of worldwide flu pandemic according its contagiousness.
«Sadly, the death toll will continue rising. Unless every single person gets vaccinated against the coronavirus, or recovers from COVID-19 and obtains a degree of «natural immunity», we cannot expect a brighter light in the whole picture,» former ULAC director said.
«The virus seems to be weaking overall, but, in terms of contagiousness, it is getting more transmissible. I’d not be surprised to see new variants of the virus emerging after Omicron, or with it still here,» Čaplinskas reasoned.
Lithuania‘s chief epidemiologist Loreta Ašoklienė said on Wednesday, December 22, that tough quarantine restrictions could be reinstated with 240 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICU). Now the number is at 120.
«If that happened, harsh quarantine restrictions would last three weeks,» she told Lithuanian media.
According to her, there are another 100 possible cases of the Omicron variant, but that needs to be confirmed.
«The majority of the cases are brought in from abroad, however we already have one local case confirmed, too. In two cases, we failed to pinpoint to the source,» Ašoklienė is quoted.
Out of the latest nine Omicron cases, six are imported. In these cases, people arrived from Denmark, the UK, the Czech Republic, the Maldives and Namibia, the country’s National Public Health Center said.
Meanwhile, three people have no travel records and contracted the virus within their families. One person could not identify the source of infection.
Out of the total 14 Omicron cases confirmed in Lithuania so far, five people were not vaccinated. The eldest patient is aged 50 and the youngest one is nine-year-old.
Lithuania has added 1,655 new coronavirus infections and 23 deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, the country’s statistics office said on Wednesday, December 22.
Seventeen of the fatalities were either not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
A total of 16,088 people have been vaccinated over the past 24 hours, including 1,925 with their first dose.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has dropped by around 50 to 1,271, including 120 ICU cases.
The 14-day infection rate has inched down to 771 per 100,000 people, and the seven-day percentage of positive tests has edged down to 10.4 percent.
As Lithuania braces for higher numbers of COVID-19, the country‘s authorities announced a major update of the its national COVID-19 certificate, the so-called Opportunity Pass (Galimybių Pasas).
Starting on December 28, people will be required to get a booster vaccine shot seven months after their full vaccination to continue to be eligible for the pass.
Read also: Travel in EU: Nine-month acceptance period adopted for digital Covid certificate
The certificate will also no longer be accessible to those who have tested positive for the coronavirus more than seven months prior.
Children above the age of 12 years and two months will also be required to have a COVID pass to access certain services.
Children aged 12–16 will acquire the pass after getting fully vaccinated or recovering from the coronavirus. The certificates will also be valid for seven months.
Children will also be eligible after undergoing a serological antibody test after which the certificate will be valid for 60 days. It will then be extended by undergoing regular testing at school or doing a PCR test at a mobile testing site every seven days. The testing will be paid for by the state.
For adults, the Opportunity Pass will be extended for 60 days after getting a positive serological antibody test result. A negative PCR test will be valid for three days.
The first serological antibody test for adults will be covered by the state, all subsequent ones will have to be paid for by the individual.
The certificate will not have an expiry date if a person who has recovered from COVID-19 (with the infection confirmed by a PCR test) and has been fully vaccinated; If a fully vaccinated person later got infected and recovered from COVID-19; if a person who has received one shot of the vaccine, then got infected with the coronavirus, later received the second jab.
Under new rules published by the European Commission on Tuesday, December 21, The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be valid for nine months.
A booster shot or a negative test will be required to extend the pass from February 1, according to the European Commission.
Brussels has recommended applying the same rules in each member state. However, Lithuania will keep its national certificate valid for seven months.
Overall, 506,000 people in Lithuania have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The death toll has reached 7,200.
BNN ANALYSES | Lithuania will slip back into lockdown with 240 COVID-19 patients in ICU
Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN