This Week in LT – November 6

Nuotraukų autorius - Evaldas Šemiotas, Kauno diena
Advertisement
parama

COVID UPDATE

Lithuania reported 1,656 new coronavirus cases on November 6, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began. Six more people died of the disease over the last 24 hours, the National Public Health Centre (NVSC). The biggest increase, 307 cases, was reported in Kaunas County, 284 in Vilnius County and 200 in Šiauliai County. In 301 cases, the source of infection could not be traced to any known sources, according to the NVSC. About 1,200 medical staff are currently ill with Covid-19. This brings Lithuania’s total Covid-19 count to 20,747 positive cases. The coronavirus death toll now stands at 192.

As of November 7, Lithuania’s government is putting a full quarantine in effect for three weeks. The restrictions include closing down some businesses – cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and spas – but leaving retailers open. While hotels are not instructed to close down, hoteliers have complained that without being able to offer spa and catering services their prospects are grim.

Private contacts should be limited to two households and up to 10 people,  groups congregating in public places cannot exceed five people, unless they are members of the same household.  No more than 10 close family members are allowed to attend occasions such as funerals and weddings. Restaurants and cafes are only allowed to serve food to take away.  Gyms, swimming pools, spa centres, museums, cinemas, and theatres will be closed. Nurseries and primary schools will remain open, while secondary schools must move at least 50% of their classes online. Colleges and universities must switch to remote teaching. Facemasks are mandatory in all public places, including on the street, with some exceptions.

COALITION AGREEMENT REACHED

The conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), the Liberal Movement and the Freedom Party have drafted a coalition agreement which they expect to sign next week. Ingrida Šimonytė, the conservative candidate for prime minister, reported that they had “almost agreed on the wording” of the agreement, but it had yet to be endorsed by the three parties. She would be the nominee for prime minister, but no potential candidates for ministerial posts or other positions would be mentioned yet. The draft agreement lists immediate tasks for the would-be government including managing the coronavirus pandemic, reviewing the planned stimulus investment, blocking market access to electricity from the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus. The coalition also pledges to call a referendum in 2024 on allowing dual citizenship, something that requires ammending the constitution.

Some of the more divisive issues have been relegated to a separate section entitled “Issues of particular importance to separate coalition partners” that will be implemented over a reasonable time, while recognizing a “divergence of opinion”.

The section includes legislating same-sex partnership, allowing original spelling of non-Lithuanian names in ID documents, legalising soft drugs and ratifying the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on combating gender violence, among other things. Aušrinė Armonaitė, the Freedom Party’s leader, said her party’s top priorities – in education, human rights and the economy – were included into the draft agreement.

CABBIES TO SPEAK LITHUANIAN

Lithuania’s State Language Inspectorate (VKI) says it will seek that drivers on ride-hailing apps, many of whom are immigrants, speak the national language. Currently, only employees of taxi companies are required to speak Lithuanian, while it is not mandatory for drivers working for ride-hailing apps like Uber or Bolt.

The VKI recently became a target of criticism on social media when a news story on TV3.lt said it would “force” foreign drivers to speak Lithuanian. Audrius Valotka, head of the VKI said that the author of the article chose strong words to sensationalize the story and that VKI employees never used such language.

In January, the language watchdog met with the Lithuanian Carriers’ Trade Union and discussed the language question. They asked the Culture Ministry to initiate a change in the legislation requiring service providers to speak the national language at A2 level, wherein a person can understand short, clearly spoken and written phrases, as well as frequently used expressions on common topics.

Meanwhile Andrius Pacevičius from Bolt, one of the leading providers of ride-hailing services in Lithuania, says that the language barrier does not inconvenience customers who can see all the necessary information on the app.