BNN ANALYSES | Lithuania’s surge in new Covid-19 cases brings mortality to one of EU’s highest

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
As the Covid-19 situation is deteriorating in the country, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said on Thursday, September 16, she cannot rule out «additional restrictive» decisions to be taken by the liberal-conservative government to rein the situation in.
Meanwhile, many Lithuanians, who have received both jabs, frown both at any new possible restrictions and at the prospects of being administered the booster shot – the hopeful assurances by many epidemiologists that, with 70 percent of the population inoculated, a herd immunity will be developed, have been shattered by the contagious Delta variant, disappointing many who expected a quick win over the disease.
«With the Delta variant ravaging, the 70 percent mark appears to be insufficient to obtain collective immunity against the virus. Alas, it has mutated and the Delta variant is highly contagious and spreads much faster than the initial Uhan variant. To get infected, a much shorter time of exposure to a Delta variant virus carrier is needed. And the concentration of the Delta virus in a person infected with it is 10 time larger than in a person struck with the initial variant,» Saulius Čaplinskas, a prominent Lithuanian epidemiologist and former director of Lithuania’s Communicable Disease and AIDS centre (ULAC), told BNN.
Lithuania registered 1,300 new coronavirus infections and eight deaths from Covid-19 over Wednesday, September 15, the country’s statistics office said on Thursday morning.
Notably, three out of the eight fatalities were persons either not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated. Vaccine shots have been administered to a total of 9,328 people, including 3,608 vaccinated with the first jab, over the day. As of September 16, the total number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals has risen by six to 869, including 84 in intensive care units. By the day, of the country’s 60 municipalities, 18 were on the black Covid-19 map – with more than 500 infections per 100 thousand inhabitants over the last 14 days.
Alarmed by the figures, PM Šimonytė said on Thursday, September 16, that, as much as she would like to shun any new additional restrictions, they could however be necessary.
«It is evident that, with schools opened, they see an upswing in new coronavirus cases.
As a result, the classes have to go into lockdown. How that will affect the occupancy of local hospitals remains to be seen, however I cannot exclude additional decisions (by government) to tackle the situation,” the Cabinet leader emphasised.
She regretted that part of the population has shunned vaccination until now. «Sadly, some of the people have seen the worst demise (death) as a result,» she accentuated.
Notably, the Covid-19 death rate in Lithuania is one of the highest in comparison with the other EU member states, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said.
Lithuanian medics contemplate that the findings could be attributed to the different testing strategies that each EU member state has, as well as to the different vaccination volumes and the uneven virus spread in various age groups.
Some doctors however believe that higher Covid-19-related mortality can perhaps be chalked up to the Lithuanian population‘s general health situation.
«One of the things I‘d like to accentuate is that, in general, Lithuanians‘ health is a little worser than that of Westerners and Scandinavians. But speaking on the whole, all the data and the testing scope and other things should be thoroughly checked before jumping to the conclusion (what leads to higher mortality),» Valdas Pečeliūnas, deputy director of Santara Clinics in Vilnius, was quoted by Lithuanian media.
The ECDC says that Covid-19 mortality in Lithuania over the last two weeks stood nearly 322 cases per 100 thousand inhabitants and 45 deaths per one million people. Lithuania was respectively 7th and 3rd on the Covid-19 mortality list of all the EU member states.
The doctor says that non-vaccinated patients prevail in Santara hospital. They also comprise the vast majority of demises from Covid-19. As part of the efforts to put Covid-19 under control, as of September 13, Lithuania is asking to show the Covid certificate, known as the Possibility passport (PP).
Under the rules that came into effect, people without the pass are only allowed to sit outdoors at catering places in groups no larger than five. They were also prohibited from using indoor bathrooms, but with the public’s outcry, the latter ban was called off.
The start of the PP introduction was reportedly rough though, with some anti-vaccination-minded bar patrons and shoppers running into altercations with PP checkers. There were also reports that some used fake PPs and that some businesses overlooked the requirement to ask and verify PPs.
Read also: Lithuania to amend traffic rules to favour cyclists, public transport
Speaking about the Possibility passport, aforementioned Čaplinkas doubted its benefit and even cautioned of its harm in winter.
«Indeed, it looks effective in short-term, but not in long-term. The most important thing is to have proper behavioural patterns (towards the virus) developed. As winter approaches and respiratory illnesses come along, some people without the pass will be barred from pharmacies. And those with it are likely to loosen up too much,» the former ULAC head reasoned.
The Opportunity Pass (Galimybių Pasas) is issued to those who have recovered from the coronavirus in the past 180 days, have a negative coronavirus test, or have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
On Wednesday, Statistics Lithuania, the country’s statistical office, revealed it analysis, showing that Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been effective against the Delta variant in the country and protects against complications and death. The analysis, which was presented to government, found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 77-80 percent effective against the Delta variant.
«Fully vaccinated people have about five times less risk of infection; this is a highly effective vaccine,»
Jonas Bačelis, a spokesman for the statistics office, told journalists. «This is an excellent result.»
The effectiveness of the vaccine is higher for young people and for those who have recently been vaccinated, at over 90 percent, he said.
The vaccine is 83-92 percent effective against hospitalisations, the study infers. The unvaccinated are ten times more likely to be hospitalised due to Covid-19 than the vaccinated. The risk of dying from Covid-19 is at least 20 times higher for the unvaccinated persons, he accentuated.