This Week in Lithuania – September 4


No Change Yet in Belarus

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says that Belarus is still at a dead end, with the regime trying to stall democratic processes. He called it a wait-and-see situation after meeting with Pavel Latushko, a presidium member of the Belarusian opposition’s Coordination Council, and Andret Sanikov, an opposition representative visiting in Vilnius.The Lithuanian minister said the goal of these meetings was to discuss possible actions of the international community regarding the situation in Belarus, adding that an independent international investigation should be launched regarding the regime’s violence against peaceful protesters and opposition members. “We also need sanctions, but not symbolic ones, they need to be meaningful,” Linkevicius said.

He noted that the regime’s actions against members of the Coordination Council were causing concern.Belarus has been rocked by protests ever since the presidential vote on August 9 when incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, was declared its winner.The opposition and Western countries say the vote was rigged.

Latvia Maintains the Baltic Bubble

Lithuania and Estonia have exceeded the coronavirus threshold agreed to by the Baltic states according to the latest results from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. However, in a special session on September 4, the Latvian cabinet agreed to continue to allow exceptions to the mandatory 14-day self-isolation rule for travellers from these two countries. Lithuania’s current cumulative 14-day rate per population of 100,000 now stands at 16.1, and is 16.4 in Estonia. Latvian Health Minister Ilze Vinkele says special travel conditions for the Baltic states would be put in place for people working or studying in the neighbouring countries. Only a few countries, including Latvia and Finland, have not exceeded the 16 per 100,000 rate across the EU so far.

New Flights to Bergen

Norwegian Air Shuttle to launch new destination from Vilnius beginning in October The second largest city in Norway – Bergen – will be accessible by a direct flight from Vilnius. Norwegian Air Shuttle, an airline that continues to develop routes in Lithuania, will operate passenger flights twice a week. The first flight on the completely new route Vilnius-Bergen is scheduled for October 3rd. Norwegian Air Shuttle will fly passengers to the Norwegian city twice a week: on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Norwegian Air Shuttle is known to Lithuanian travellers as an airline operating a successful air connection with the Scandinavian region. The company has also resumed direct flights to Oslo from Vilnius and Palanga airports. Norwegian Air Shuttle applies safety rules on its aircraft: passengers are asked to keep a safe distance from each other when boarding and disembarking, as well as on the aircraft, and passengers are seated accordingly. All passengers over the age of 6 must wear a protective face mask. Norwegian Air Shuttle aircraft are thoroughly cleaned and regularly disinfected, and use an advanced air filtration system to remove bacteria and viruses in the air.

Recovery after Slowdown

Lithuania’s employment income growth slowed down during three months of coronavirus quarantine restrictions, but bounced back in June to the level seen at the start of the year, according to figures released by Sodra, the state social insurance fund, on August 27. About 14,000 more employees were hired than fired in July, a sign that people are returning to the labour market. Although hotel, tourism and food service businesses registered the largest increase in employee numbers in July, income growth in the sectors that were shut down during the quarantine is slower than average. Average employment income grew by 11.4% in June year-on-year, the rate last registered in February. Income growth cannot be called sustainable because of the impact of subsidies. Lithuania’s average monthly employment income on which social insurance taxes were paid rose by 5.3% in the second quarter of 2020 year-on-year to 1,319 euros (before taxes), compared with the 10% growth rate in the first quarter. In the second quarter, employment income edged down by 0.3%.The official number of full-month workers fell by 27,000, or 2.2% over the quarter, according to Sodra statistics. The “hire-fire” balance was positive both in June and July. Almost 25,000 more people were fired than hired during the nationwide coronavirus quarantine period from March 16 and June 17.

Economy Withstanding the Challenge

Lithuania’s economy is coping very well with challenges induced by the coronavirus crisis, and the latest figures are a cause for cautious optimism in the second half of this year, according Finance Minister Vilius Sapoka. Lithuania’s economy has done surprisingly well withstanding challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic so far. Despite a strong shock to the economy, we’ve been seeing growing economic activity since May already. A timely fiscal response, including measures related to residential income, jobs and maintaining business liquidity, has helped to amortize losses the economy suffered in April, Sapoka was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Finance Ministry. Nevertheless, it is still too soon to confirm that the positive result will become a tendency in the second half of the year. The recent spike in coronavirus cases and growing uncertainty over the future might again negatively affect business and consumer expectations.The latest figures showed today that Lithuania’s economy shrank 3.7% to 11.5 billion euros year-on-year, and 5.1% on a quarterly basis.