BNN ANLYSES | Hatchet men aim at Lithuanian Health Minister, but PM’s support unwavering amid virus spike

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
With Lithuania struggling to rein COVID-19 in – the country has been one of the EU’s worst COVID-19-hit countries for the second consecutive week – hatchet men from opposition are aiming at the head of the country’s Health minister, Arūnas Dulkys.
Both president Gitanas Nausėda and the blood-thirsty opposition Farmers and Greens (LFGU), known colloquially as Farmers, have exhorted him to resign over the dismal situation on the COVID-19 front.
«Alas, as a country, we’ve gotten into a very egregious spotlight – as a top country on the global ranking of COVID-19, already for a couple of weeks now. This is disastrous,» Dainius Kepenis, a LFGU MP, told BNN.
The parliamentarian, however, has drawn much fire to himself for his outlandish and preposterous remarks on COVID-19 ostensibly being a conspiracy plot by pharmaceutical giants.
«International experts, not some local experts say the situation has gotten out of control in Lithuania. All we need to do is to look how our neighbours are handling the crisis on the other side of the Baltic Sea – in Sweden, Denmark or Norway,» the parliamentarian says.
In early September, Danish authorities announced of phasing out all pandemic restrictions and pronounced that COVID-19 is no longer a «critical threat» in the country.  Danes’ trust in medical authorities and the high vaccination levels were hailed as key to the country’s success in battling the virus.
Last Friday, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda urged Dulkys to come up with solutions how to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
«Or he has to step down…There are two paths for the minister: either he says he knows how to achieve a breakthrough…or, if he does not see how to do it, he admits it honestly and does not take the government hostage,» Nausėda told journalists in the northwestern town of Mažeikiai, where he was inspecting the Orlen oil refinery.
The harsh words from the head-of-state are certainly music to the opposition Farmers’ ears, but the LFGU’s interpellation threats not only to the Health minister, but the entire Cabinet, seem, so far, to be all sizzle and no stake.
«I wish to see what the Farmers would do otherwise in the situation. Now they are all talk and no action, trying to grasp what the immense loss of the fraction’s dozen bright minds means to the party. With the Farmers in power during 2016-2020, Lithuania, notably, has also had streaks of COVID-19 peaks, internationally I mean,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor of political sciences at Mykolas Romeris University, told BNN.
In early September, Saulius Skvernelis, a former prime minister of Lithuania, and nine other MPs have left the Farmers and Greens Union’s group in the Seimas, Parliament, to form a new faction, called «Demokratai – vardan Lietuvos» (Democrats – for Lithuania).
Apart from Linas Kukuraitis and Skvernelis, the new group will also include Rima Baškienė, Vytautas Bakas, Domas Griškevičius, Rūta Miliūtė, Laima Mogenienė, Laima Nagienė, Lukas Savickas, Algirdas Stončaitis, Zenonas Streikus, Tomas Tomilinas, and Algirdas Butkevičius. Rima Baškienė joined it later.
«In the dire circumstances that Lithuania finds itself in – I mean the migrant crisis and the COVID-19 contingency – the government is doing pretty well,» says Dumbliauskas.
Yet the Farmers have not abandoned their plan to oust the Health minister as an incapable minister.
«It is not off of our agenda. Certainly not. We’ve summoned the minister a couple of time to our fraction to give us explanations about the ongoing reform of medical facilities.  But now, with the COVID-19 situation in the country being disastrous, we definitely want to grill him again,» Aurelijus Veryga, also a LFGU MP and former Health minister in 2016-2020, said this week.
He said that there are MPs in the ruling majority who want the minister to step down too.
«Fortunately to him, he has a strong backing of Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė. If not, he would be gone,» the former Health minister says.
Cornered up, Dulkys admits that he has the support of PM Šimonytė, adding that vaccination is the only way to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.
«The way to a breakthrough is simple: everyone should continue to get vaccinated,» he said in a comment to the media. «I feel that the prime minister has confidence in me, and I am focused on my work.»
«He may have made certain mistakes, but definitely not one worth his firing…Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone from the Conservative’s establishment who could, or would agree, to replace the minister. Taking on the post now would mean a political suicide to any politician. No doubt, all understand that,» Dumbliauskas emphasised to BNN.
The liberal-conservative Cabinet has approved proposals to require unvaccinated workers in certain areas to pay for their COVID-19 tests and to offer a one-off payment of 100 euros to newly vaccinated seniors aged 75 years and over and those who take their booster shots.
Read also: Lithuania to pay 100 euros to newly vaccinated seniors, no lockdown planned
The state will continue to pay for tests for workers who cannot take the jab for medical reasons and if vaccines are not available, according to the minister.
Lithuania logged in 2 861 new COVID-19 cases and 28 lethal cases on Thursday, October 14. Of 28, 24 were unvaccinated, or partly vaccinated, persons.
A total of 5,786 people have been vaccinated over the past 24 hours, including 2,139 with their first dose. The 14-day infection rate has risen to 1038.7 per 100,000 people, and the seven-day percentage of positive rests has gone up to 11.5 percent. Notably, total number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals has increased by several tens over the past 24 hours to 1,511, including 156 ICU cases.
Capacities of the country’s major hospitals were on the brink of exhaustion – 86 percent of regular COVID-19 beds and 76 percent of ICU beds are reportedly already occupied in Vilnius hospitals.
Reportedly, in Vilnius Santara Clinics, which treat serious and critical COVID cases, almost all COVID beds are taken. It is thus adding 30 extra beds to the existing 91. Around 150 COVID-19 patients are currently treated in Kaunas Clinics. If the epidemiological situation keeps worsening, other services will be suspended to accommodate all those infected with coronavirus, said Saulius Tvirbutas, a communications specialist at Kaunas Clinics.
A total of 5,349 people have died of COVID-19 in Lithuania so far.