This Week in LT – December 4, 2020

Coronavirus Update

Lithuania registered 2,450 new coronavirus cases on November 3, a new record daily increase since the start of the pandemic. Some 1,430 people recovered over the past 24 hours. The country’s total number of infections has risen to 67,660. Some 39,377 people are still ill and 28,836 have recovered. The country’s total death toll is 564. With the new cases of Covid-19 reported, Lithuania is now third in the EU/EEA by coronavirus infection rate, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Over the last two weeks, Lithuania registered 1,011.2 new cases per 100,000 people. Only Luxembourg and Croatia reported more, 1,213.2 and 1,083.5. respectively.

Coronavirus infections in Lithuania surged fourfold in November compared to October, the National Public Health Centre (NVSC) announced on December 3.  A total of 44,818 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed between November 2 and 29, increasing by four times since October and 25 times since September. The results of epidemiological investigations show that a significant proportion of last month’s cases were linked to infections in families and at work, as well as in treatment and supportive care facilities. The contacts could not be traced for some 4,520 cases, or more than 10 percent of all confirmed cases. In most of the cases, 4,036, the NVSC did not have the contact details of those infected and could not reach them.

Meanwhile, Latvia had 365.7 new cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days and Estonia had 355.9. Neighbouring Poland reported a higher ate, 634.5. However, Lithuania is also among the leading nations in terms of testing. As of November 27, it ranked seventh among 31 European Union and European Economic Area countries (and the UK) by tests per 100,000 people.

On December 2 the Lithuanian government took a decision to limit the size of groups in public places to two people, down from the current limit of five, and banned Christmas markets in shopping centres. Existing pop-up market stalls will have to be dismantled, according to Acting Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga. The new rules do not apply to permanent stalls and kiosks inside shopping centres, as well as to stalls selling food products and fireworks.

The government also recommended that businesses avoid advertising sales in an effort to prevent crowding. The restriction on the size of groups also applies to non-formal education classes, accommodation services, and religious rites. People from the same family are exempt from the limit on group sizes. Lithuania was placed under quarantine on November 7, which was extended to December 17.

COVID Vaccines

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will be making decisions regarding the first two COVID-19 vaccines in December and January. Lithuania has entered into preliminary contracts with them or will be signing shortly. If everything proceeds as required, Lithuania will have a portion of the vaccine early in 2021.

The  head of the State Drug Control Gytis Andriulionis noted that although four vaccines are being reviewed, two manufacturers are currently presenting proposals, Moderna and BioNTech together with Pfizer. EMA members, which include Lithuania, have decided to be more cautious in confirming vaccines than the UK. All data will be strictly reviewed by December 29, and only then will final decisions be made. Andrulionis said that the transportation of vaccines, especially the US formula which needs extremely cold conditions, has been called a logistic nightmare, however manufacturers have included delivery in the contracts. Preparations are underway to receive the vaccines.

In all, Lithuania has entered into preliminary contracts with five pharmaceutical manufacturers and has agreed to one more with Moderna. The others are AstraZeneca, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, Sanofi Pasteur & GSK, CureVac and BioNTech & Pfizer.

Threat from Russia Continues

Russia will continue to be one of the main threats to NATO in the next decade, according to a high-level report by the alliance published on December 1.

While Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia continues, assertive Russian behaviour has intensified, according to the report. Russia’s ongoing military build-ups and assertive activity in areas including the Baltic and Black Sea regions.
Russia has engaged in “air and naval build-ups in and around key maritime chokepoints in the Barents, Baltic, and Black seas, and the Mediterranean,” the report said. The NATO 2030: United for a New Era report drafted by experts was presented during a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers on December 1-2, also attended by Lithuania’s outgoing Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius. While Russia is by economic and social measures a declining power, it has proven itself capable of territorial aggression and is likely to remain a chief threat facing NATO over the coming decade, according to the report.

“Russia maintains a powerful conventional military and robust nuclear arsenal that poses a threat across NATO territory, but is particularly acute on the eastern flank,” a region that includes the Baltic states and other Eastern European members bordering Russia.

The report urged NATO member states to pursue “the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue” with Russia, but also to “raise the costs for Russian aggression” by imposing “tighter sanctions”.

Free Visas to Fleeing Belarusians

Lithuania will issue free national visas to Belarusians fleeing repression by the Alexander Lukashenko regime. On December 2, the outgoing Cabinet approved amendments drafted by the Foreign Ministry to provide visas requested through a Lithuanian state institution or a Lithuania-registered nongovernmental organization free of consular charges for Belarusians seeking to enter Lithuania on humanitarian grounds. 

The Foreign Ministry has said the measure is necessary because an increasing number of Belarusian citizens are asking for protection in Lithuania from violence and human rights violations by their country’s authorities in the wake of the August 9 presidential election. 

Some of the Belarusians have Schengen visas or permits issued by the Lithuanian interior minister on humanitarian grounds, but they need national visas for a long-term stay, according to the ministry. 

Outgoing Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told the Cabinet that the consular fee currently amounts to 60 euros and asylum seekers usually have it paid for them by NGOs.

Figures from the Migration Department show that Lithuania issued 1,354 visas to Belarusian citizens on humanitarian grounds between September 21 and December 1. A total of 5,696 national visas were issued to Belarusians during the period, mostly for work. 

Budget Deficit

Lithuania’s budget deficit in 2021 will exceed the current projection of 5% of GDP, Prime Minister-designate Ingrida Šimonytė said on December 3. This is because the draft 2021 budget proposed by the outgoing government does not earmark any funding for some expenses already approved by the parliament, Seimas, such as higher pension indexation or inclusive education, according to Šimonytė. “This basically means that the deficit will inevitably be higher, and I am saying this very clearly now, because the deficit projection in the preliminary draft budget does not factor in many things,” she told the Žinių Radijas radio station.

“To avoid additional confusion, we will look for a tolerable deficit threshold at which we will have to stop, because debt growth has already become a problem,” she said.

Gintarė Skaistė, the candidate for finance minister, said that the budget deficit might reach about 6.5% in 2021.

The current budget draft projects a deficit of 5% of GDP next year, but the National Audit Office forecasts that it will be higher, 5.7%. Vitas Vasiliauskas, the central bank governor, has also warned that the 2021 deficit may exceed the 5% projection.

With news from,,