This Week in LT

Astravyets nuclear plant in Belarus (Photo from the internet)

Hopes to Ban Astravyets Imports

On December 29, 2020, Foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis announced that Lithuania requested the European Commission include a clause on banning electricity imports from the Astravyets nuclear plant in Belarus in the EU-China investment deal. The aim is to avoid creating “preconditions” for investment that would open a way to trade electricity produced at the Astravyets plant. According to the Lithuanian government, the plant, built close to the Lithuania border, was constructed in violation of safety and environmental requirements.

After Belarus launched the Astravyets  nuclear power plant in November, Lithuania halted all electricity trade with the neighbouring country and has been seeking a regional and EU-wide boycott of the plant. The plant has also suffered several incidents, which were reported by non-governmental organizations and downplayed by the Belarusian government.
The European Union and China are about to settle on their mutual investment agreement, with China’s access to the EU’s energy market being one of the most sensitive issues. The final agreement is expected to be reached in the coming days. The Lithuanian government agrees that the agreement is economically beneficial, according to Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. He emphasized that the agreement includes provisions aimed at ensuring human rights.

“The European Commission has managed to secure the ratification of four international conventions on the Chinese part, and two of them have to do with forced labour,” he said.

China has been criticized by the international community for its crackdown on the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang.

New COVID-19 Statistics

Lithuania confirmed 2,360 new coronavirus cases and another 36 deaths from December 30 to 31. A total of 140,579 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Lithuania so far. The country currently has 67,344 active cases and 71,028 recoveries. The coronavirus death toll has now reached 1,458, while 749 infected people have died of other causes.

Just over 12,000 people were tested for the coronavirus in the 24 hours preceding December 31. On average, 2,372 new coronavirus cases were recorded daily last week, according to the statistics office.

Lockdown in Lithuania

The COVID-19 lockdown, in effect in Lithuania from December 16 to January 31, dictates that no more than two people may travel in a single car, unless they are from the same household.

People must not leave their homes for reasons other than work, food shopping, health services or other essential needs.
From December 16 to January 3 people are not allowed to leave the municipality they reside in, except in case of death of a relative, for work-related reasons, for essential health services, visiting their own property in a different municipality, for international travel, travel for work, student internships or exams. Travellers from EU/EEA member states that are affected more severely than Lithuania need to self-quarantine or be tested for the coronavirus before departure or when in Lithuania.

Physical contact between people from different households is not allowed, except to provide care. Family events may involve only one household. Up to two people from different households can meet outdoors

All non-food shops have to close or move trading online. Food markets, veterinary and food shops, pharmacies, optical and orthopedic shops are allowed to remain open. Services that involve physical contact longer than 15 minutes are prohibited, including hairdressers and other beauty services. Exceptions apply to health, psychotherapy and emotional help services, if they cannot be provided remotely; legal and financial services, if they cannot be provided remotely.

As to education, all classes will move online. Exceptions apply to children with special needs and students whose parents cannot work from home, as well as kindergartens. Primary school classes move online on January 4.

A Darker New Year‘s Eve

On New Year’s Eve, cities in Lithuania switched off their Christmas lights, limited traffic, and cancelled firework displays in a bid to prevent crowding and stem the spread of the coronavirus. In Vilnius, Christmas lights were turned off and roads around Cathedral Square were closed between 10:30 PM on December 31 and 1:30 AM on January 1. Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, limited cars and pedestrians in Rotušės Square in Old Town. The port city of Klaipėda also turned off its Christmas lights. In Vilnius, and likely in other locations as well, some revellers persisted in celebrating with fireworks and alcoholic beverages in the streets and squares, where police officers were on duty to encourage them to return to their homes.

Vaccines on their Way

Lithuania should receive the third batch of the BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine next week, said Health Minister Arūnas Dulkys on December 30, although the ministry had no further details about the delivery. Dulkys said the exact delivery date for the third delivery is yet to be set, but he expects it to be “close” to January 4. About 200 medical workers and volunteers were involved in the vaccination process, but the exact number of medical workers who have been vaccinated is not disclosed, according to the minister.

Lithuania has so far received two deliveries of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, a total of 20,475 doses. The first batch was distributed among five hospitals, and the plan was to use the second batch for booster shots for medical workers who had received their first shots. This decision could change, depending on when the third delivery will reach the country. Lithuania has contracts on the purchase of coronavirus vaccines with six producers for over 7 million doses.

Flights Resuming on January 1

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are allowing flights from the United Kingdom to resume on January 1, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry announced. Having jointly adopted the travel restrictions, they are also being jointly removed. Lithuania banned flights from the United Kingdom on December 20 after a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus was detected in London and southern England. Although Lithuania-UK flights had not been banned, the airlines took a decision to cancel all flights.

People arriving from Britain will need to present a negative test for Covid-19 before departure or be tested once back in Lithuania, or self-isolate for 10 days. The government is yet to make the announcement. The so-called Baltic travel bubble existed after the first wave of the pandemic, when Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania allowed free travel between the three countries.