Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has not yet conjured up for the public reputation of a vocal supporter of the vaccination against Covid-19.
Furthermore, the head-of-state has been bickering with the liberal-conservative Government, scolding it for he says are chaotic and divisive governmental Covid-19 policies.
His latest Covid-19-stoked resentment has flared-up already this year – the President gave the Cabinet an ultimatum: either agree to issue minors aged 12 to 15 the Opportunity pass (OP, also known as the Covid-19 pass) after a rapid antigen test taken by a child produces negative results or face scrutiny of the Constitutional Court over the decision not to allow that.
In order to receive the Opportunity pass, each Lithuanian, and schoolchildren aged 12-18, too, need either get jabbed, overcome the coronavirus or pass the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for Covid-19, a molecular test that analyses upper respiratory specimen.
Before, the pass could also be obtained having negative results of a rapid antigen test, but the measure has been called off since December, which angered many.
PCR tests are believed to be more accurate but can take a long time to produce results. Antigen tests, the other major type of coronavirus test, while much faster, are less accurate, according to public health specialists.
Antigens are substances that cause the body to produce an immune response – they trigger the generation of antibodies. These tests use lab-made antibodies to search for antigens from the coronavirus.
The Lithuanian government wants to expand jabbing in all age groups, particularly among minors, and, seemingly, does not embrace the testing as much as the inoculation in obtaining the Opportunity pass.
But the President says that the decision to phase out antigen tests in receiving the OP may run counter the country’s Constitution.
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According to World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, rapid antigen tests can be used to diagnose Covid-19 infection when an PCR test is unavailable.
Nausėda threatened to check constitutionality of the decision after the movement «Basos mamos» (Barefooted moms) appealed to him with the request.
Previously, several societal groups asked the President to seek the Constitutional Court’s say on the Government’s approved order for issuance of the Opportunity pass.
The Lithuanian public is too polarised over Covid-19 vaccination, President Gitanas Nausėda says, and the government’s policies are partly to blame, he insists.
«The attitudes towards the vaccination and the methods for speeding it up are too polarised», President Nausėda said in an interview with LRT TV.
He has said that after Lithuania’s vaccination effort started to skid in past summer, the government may have overdone with «feverish» and «forced» push to speed it up.
«We went over the top with mandatory vaccination, which is not mandatory per se, but the incentives were put in place and scare tactics were deployed, such as limiting access to some essential services, banning (unvaccinated people) from public transport», Nausėda has said.
The Lithuanian government has decided that, from mid-September, a number of services, such as non-essential shops and public events, are accessible with the OP only.
The initial suggestion also included public transport and non-essential medical services, but these were later scrapped. There are no plans to make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for all though.
He has called for a «dialogue» in order to lower the tensions.
Nausėda said at the turn of years that the government’s proposal to introduce mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for some workers is reasonable, but emphasised he believes that a damage compensation mechanism needs to be put in place at the same time.
According to him, «compulsory vaccination and compensation must work in tandem».
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 situation has been deteriorating in the country. Lithuania registered 3,053 new coronavirus infections and 13 deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, the country’s statistics office said on Thursday, January 6.
This is the highest daily count of new Covid-19 patients since November 5 and the third day in a row when the country has reported a spike in new cases.
As of January 5, in total 128 cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Lithuania so far, with most of them unrelated to foreign travel, the National Public Health Centre (NPHC) said on Wednesday, January 5. Most of these cases have been detected in Vilnius County, with the rest spread across almost all other counties.
The ages of the infected range from two to 77, with an average age of 31 years.
Some 90 percent if the infected said they had developed symptoms typical of Covid-19, but none of them have been hospitalised. There are both vaccinated and unvaccinated people among the infected, according to the NPHC.
Preliminary data from Statistics Lithuania and the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) suggest that Omicron has already become the dominant variant of Covid-19 in the country.
The data have yet to confirmed by sequencing tests which take at least two weeks.
«Omicron has spread very rapidly in Lithuania and is already the dominant strain,» Statistics Lithuania posted on Facebook on Wednesday, January 5.
The 14-day infection rate has risen to 888.5 per 100,000 people, and the seven-day percentage of positive tests has gone up to 16.2 percent.
Overall, more than 532,800 people in Lithuania have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. The death toll has reached around 7,500.
Lithuania’s National Blood Centre on Thursday, January 6, began to offer walk-in vaccination against Covid-19 in major shopping centres.
Meanwhile, airlines operating in Lithuania are not taking chances – a handful of them have temporarily suspended this week flights from Lithuania to 20 destinations amid the worldwide spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, with most of them expected to resume in February.
Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN