This Week in LT – January 8

Photo S. Žiūra
Archbishop Gintaras Grušas

Church Services Suspended

On January 6, Lithuanian Catholic Church leaders reversed their decision to reopen churches for public worship. Vilnius Archbishop Gintaras Grušas announced that in light of the current situation, public church services with the participation of the faithful would not resume and churches would remain open only to private prayer and services. The Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference had initially stated that public church services would resume on January 11, but with limits on attendance. The bishops suspended public church services in mid-December after the government tightened the lockdown restrictions amid spiking coronavirus cases. 

Renewed Cooperation with USA

Lithuanian diplomats and representatives of US President-elect Joe Biden are once again working on Eastern European issues, according to Asta Skaisgirytė, adviser to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda. She said that the goal is refocus US attention to topics relevant to Lithuania, including the Eastern Partnership Programme, Eastern Europe, and Belarus.

Presidential Adviser Aistė Skaisgirytė

Lithuania expects constructive cooperation with the Biden’s administration, said Skaisgirytė, adding the relationship with the US has been “very close during President Trump’s term”.

Donald Trump has shown attention to the Baltic states and the region, according to the presidential adviser. According to Skaisgirytė, there are signs that the new US administration is inclined to talk to the European Union about certain agreements and pay attention to international organizations such as the European Union.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis had a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 7. According to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, Pompeo assured Landsbergis that Lithuania and the US would continue and strengthen their active cooperation. Landsbergis, also asked for the United States’ support on the Astravyets nuclear power plant issue and confirmed that the country is making every effort to prevent power produced at the facility from entering the Lithuanian market.

Coronavirus Update

Lithuania registered 2,331 new coronavirus infections and another 30 deaths from COVID-19 as of January 6-7, according to BNS. Other sources quote 1,993 new coronavirus infections and 28 deaths from Covid-19 as of January 8. Recoveries number 1,718 people with a total of 156,539 having tested positive since the pandemic started. The country currently has 65,566 active cases and 87,963 recoveries. The coronavirus-related death toll now stands at 2,119, including 16 earlier fatalities added on Friday. Lithuania tested 12,754 people for the coronavirus over the past 24 hours. A total of 1,700,842 tests for COVID-19 have been carried out in Lithuania so far.

Overpriced Test Purchase

The Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office announced on January 7 that it has filed a class action suit seeking more than 4 million euros in damages for rapid COVID-19 tests.  The PGO claims that the state heavily overpaid for rapid tests purchased through a negotiated procedure without prior publication and seeks to recover that part of the contract value that they consider to be unreasonable. Prosecutors from the Public Interest Protection Division have asked Vilnius Regional Court to declare null and void transactions on the acquisition of COVID-19 EXPRESS rapid tests and order the companies involved to pay more than 4.14 million euros in damages to the state.

Evidence collected as part of a probe into the purchase of 510,000 rapid tests for a total of 6 million euros, including VAT, by the National Public Health Surveillance Laboratory indicate a possible violation of public interest, according to a PGO press release. The contract was awarded in violation of the principle of transparency set out in the Law on Public Procurement. The rule that funds allocated for the purchase of supplies, services or works must be used rationally was not followed either, it said. As a result, the tests were bought at a price that was about three times above their real market value. Formal suspicions against six individuals have been brought in the case.

 Suspected officials are Lina Jaruseviciene, who served as deputy health minister at the time the contract was concluded, as well as representatives of Profarma, the company that supplied the tests, and Bona Diagnosis CEO Redas Laukys. The rapid tests were purchased as a matter of urgency. The laboratory signed the contract on the same day it received Profarma’s offer. The entire amount of 6 million euros was transferred to the company as an advance payment within a day. Law-enforcement officials have said that the company could have forged documents and provided false information on the rapid test producer when signing the 6-million-euro contract.

With news from BNS, LRT