LIVE FROM THE QUARANTINE. Briefly on covid-19 in Riga and Latvia. LAST UPDATED 31.03.20. - 6:00PM.

In order to keep you informed constantly during the coronavirus lockdown in Latvia, we have created a separate article with some official info about statistics on covid-19 cases, brief look into political statements, and changes in public realm mostly in Riga. This post is updated daily around 10AM and 6PM until the end of lockdown on 14 April, or longer if necessary.

LAST UPDATES today include:
❗new statistics + graphs;
❗increased penalty for disobeying emergency measures;
❗new death in Estonia and Lithuania each;
❗27+ infected found in a shelter by a religious organisation;
❗relief to self-employed and micro-enterprises announced.


STATISTICS NOW

As on 31 March, there were 398 infected in total found since the first official contraction on 3 March in Latvia, and after testing 14,807 individuals (current testing limit is 1,200 - 1,300 per day). At first, the number of infected cases vs the tested varied from 2.7 - 3.8 %. In mid-March the percentage steadily decreased to be around 2.7 - 2.9 % constantly. Since 25 March, the total percentage is only 2.1 - 2.7 % positive cases after privately run test results were also published.

The largest amount of positive tests per day, 42 individuals, was registered on 29 March. On 31 March, due to the smallest amount of people applying for tests in two weeks, family doctors can now forward patients with respiratory infections immediately to covid-19 outdoor testing tents for free.

Infected cases VS the tested after publishing both public and private results (SPKC; 31.03.2020).

As on 31 March, 27 persons were stationed with 3 of them in critical condition. Latvia has approximately 1.91 million inhabitants, and the positive cases have reached 20.7 per 100,000 inhabitants and 0 fatalities as on 31 March with Lithuania and Estonia having 8 and 4 deaths respectively.

On 31 March, 27+ infected were found in a suburban shelter in Riga run by an Evangelical Christian organisation "Zilais Krusts". Epidemiologists are more pessimistic - everyone of the 100 present could be ill. The shelter with iths inhabitants and staff is now in quarantine and guarded by the police.

As on 30 March, around 23 % of the infected are aged 50 and older (raising by 1 % daily from a constant 16 % since mid-March) with the ones aged >60 growing. More than a half confirmed cases until 30 March were aged 20 - 39, since then it has dropped to 49%. On 20 March, 95 % of the infected came from abroad during the repatriation (mainly from Spain, UK, Italy, Austria, France and Germany). On 28 March, it was only 60 % with 30 % infections occurring already in Latvia. Some 6 - 7% are untraceable transmission cases discovered for the first time on 25 March.

The infected per age (SPKC; 31.03.2020).

More than a half of the infected are located in Riga with vast majority of the other half within its metropolitan area. On 26 March, the first case of an ill medical staff occurred in Latvia (in Rēzekne town). There have been several others declared infected each day since then in Riga and elsewhere (including paramedics).

Positive covid-19 cases per county in real-time (SPKC; created and embedded on 27.03.2020). 

GOVERNANCE DURING LOCKDOWN

On 10 March, the first official letter from the Ministry of Health regarding threats of coronavirus was sent to a large portion of residents via governmental electronic declaration or registration systems managed by State Revenue Service (VID), Road Traffic Safety Directorate (CSDD), and E-Class as well via mobile phones.

From 12 March until 14 April, a temporary national lockdown has been announced in Latvia. It demands all the repatriating or infected to stay in quarantine for 14 days (those in question are regularly checked by the police), and others not ill to practice self-isolation and social distancing. The latter includes emergency measures like:
  • staying at home when possible;
  • avoiding public spaces;
  • keeping a personal distance larger than 2 m when in public (Since 29 March, only two people or family, or household members can be closer than 2 metres in public. Weddings are possible at "2+2" with the couple and witnesses, funerals are possible only outside by keeping distance.);
  • disinfecting or washing hands for at least 20 seconds on hourly basis or more often;
  • not touching face;
  • maintaining physical activities (cycling, yoga, lonely hikes or running suggested);
  • sneezing and coughing in elbow or a tissue;
  • immediate disposing of the tissue;
  • and others (full list).
The administrative monetary penalty for disobeying two main emergency measures of quarantine and distancing in public was 10 - 350 euros until 31 March. Since then it has grown up to 2000 euros and up to 5000 euros for legal entities. From the beginning of lockdown until 27 March, the police has carried out 5383 preventive checkups, started 296 administrative cases against offenders, issued 26 fines, and begun 100 service inspections on violations in the Riga metropolitan area.

On 27 February, E. Gulbja Laboratorija were the first to announce they are open for testing, but it would cost 80.40 EUR. First free national covid-19 mobile outdoor testing tent was opened on 13 March in Riga with the second following on 17 March. The third is now available at Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital since 20 March.
An informative phone line has been created to answer questions related to covid-19 - please call 8345. When experiencing symptoms or returning to Latvia from abroad, reserve a test at the national mobile outdoor testing tent by calling 8303. Arrival without a reservation and by public transportation or on foot is strictly forbidden.
On 12 March, the government agreed on dedicating 1 billion euros to fighting the virus (10 % of annual budget). Most of the sum is meant to cover tax and credit holidays for businesses as well as covering sick notes. On 19 March, the support from the country reached more than 2 billion euros. Since 21 March, the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament are working remotely.

On 24 March, the parliament accepted plans to pay off premiums to medical personnel fighting the virus. It could mean up to +20% per wage during the next two following months with up to +50% to those fighting the virus on March.

Since lockdown, there have been multiple repatriation trips initiated by the Ministry of Traffic and External Affairs, and carried out by ferries and planes from 15 March until 30 March. 2,276 Latvians in 21 flights have returned from abroad, probably the same amount have crossed borders themselves or by ferry. Turns out that many went home from the airport by city bus, thus exposing others to the potential virus. Since 28 March, there has been a separate bus traffic organized.

The international airport of Riga is shut down since 17 March along with borders and any other international travels. Estonia closed their border with Latvia on 15 March, Lithuania - a day later. On 29 March, the first AirBaltic flight was organized to and from Urumchi, China, with a delivery containing 900,000 face masks and 80,000 respirators. During the next week several more flights are planned to deliver approximately 4 more million items.

Cumulative growth of the number of infected (SPKC; 31.03.2020).

Since 13 March, it's forbidden to approach bus, trolley or tram drivers in Riga. No public transport tickets can be purchased on board, and discounts are revoked to most, including seniors, to limit the flow of people. Since it has fell by 50 % by the end of March, the daily intensity of traffic has been reduced by 20 %. Other operators nearby the capital began to practice the distancing soon after, e.g. Jūrmala. Since 27 March, only half the amount of tickets can be sold on intercity buses in Latvia; for now, it's only recommended in Riga.

Since 26 March, 140 pedestrian crossing buttons in Riga are turned off to avoid exchanging with the virus. Since 20 March, every playground and sports track in the capital is closed, and visiting them can end with administrative penalty. The upcoming election of Riga City Council has been postponed to 6 June. Real estate tax in for the first quarter has been postponed until 15 May in the city.

On 24 March, the government announced there would be stoppage relief disbursed to 40 business sectors. Most of them are related to tourism, entertainment, catering, sports, and culture. The relief will cover 75 % of wages during the following months, but not more than 700 EUR per month. No taxes will be deducted.

Other sectors, not included fully or partially, were sceptical and criticized the decision. On 26 March, the government corrected their statement and promised to grant help to any business with at least 30 % turnover loss in March/April. There are exceptional cases for those with turnover loss at least 20% already - if 10 % of returns are at least € 500,000, average wage is at least € 800, and more than € 500,000 have been invested last year.

On 31 March, the self-employed and micro-enterprises could also apply for the stoppage relief. For the former, it will consist of 75 % from the Mandatory State Social Insurance Contributions paid in last two quarters. For the latter, it will consist of 50 % of their average income during last two quarters. The relief will cover two months from 14 March until 14 May and will be not more than 700 EUR per month.

Meanwhile, layoffs and redundancies (of them 14 collective cases) have caused 2,440 new unemployment cases until 26 March alone. The largest number comes from the national flag carrier AirBaltic that will temporary layoff 400 out of its 1,600 employees from 14 April.

All events or gatherings larger than 50 people were cancelled and illegal, all museums, entertainment and event venues are closed, and all public establishments must be closed by 23:00 until 14 April. Several Latvian movies and concerts have been published online for free or reduced price to be viewed during lockdown.

Schools and universities are operating online (not kindergartens). All religious spaces are locked to the public, but faced strictures, public condemnation, and visits by the police right after lockdown when several (mainly Russian Orthodox) parishes continued to practice the service on site, disobeying social distancing, and touching and kissing artefacts.

On 24 March, it was officially announced that shopping centres must be closed on weekends; some shops have spared special morning hours (8:00 - 10:00) for the elderly to do their groceries. Every shop must be equipped with disinfection substances at every entrance.

A virus encounter at Rimi store (Author unknown; 2020).

Majority of food and drink establishments in Riga have closed to the public and switched to individual home delivery or joined two food delivery platforms Wolt and Bolt (ironic names, right?). Since 26 March, banks in Latvia have raised the limit for fast contactless payments to 50 EUR in order to fight the usage of cash.

PEOPLE DURING LOCKDOWN

The atmosphere, despite mostly older people and men not taking precautions of distance, face touching and disinfection in shops, is rather positive. Many work from home and have created #paliecmājās Facebook frame. Several artists have published their songs recorded at home during the local #QuarantineChallenge since 19 March. On 30 March, MadCity Riga International happening of Urban Planning opened their Zoom online bar for one hour for everyone to participate and chat about everything.
Latvian Biomedical Research and Study Centre has been involved internationally in developing the vaccine for the whole month already. On 19 March, "Hackforce", the very first virtual hackathon in Latvia, gathered 28 teams with more than 800 people from 25 different countries worldwide. While scientists at Riga Technical University developed a mechanical lung ventilator, an idea called "Face-Shields" won the competition with a face shield to protect doctors and healthcare professionals from virus transmission trough air droplets, using 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC technology.
The local independent investigating journalism platform, Re:Baltica, is constantly checking fake news and conspiracies on social and mass media since 10 March with constant focus since 14 March (an open call to cooperate followed a day later). Largest amount of content covers local politicians or doctors trying to shine with their lack of knowledge, made-up professors, scientists or medicine experts from top universities or hospitals, miraculous medicine and homeopathy from Russia, and local/pro-Kremlin trolls.

In result, here is a list of pages and people you ought to ban as sources of information and opinion at all times:
  • Aivis Vasilevskis
  • Allans Parijancs
  • Andris Ciekurs
  • Es mīlu Latviju un Eiropu
  • Gaismas Tīmeklis
  • Iveta Buiķe
  • Jānis Pļaviņš
  • Jurijs Kļimovs
  • Kla.TV
  • Kristine Liepina
  • Kristofers Greberis
  • Marija Sils
  • Memory Water
  • Nožēlojamā valdība
  • Reinis Liene Grinhofi
  • Tautas kalpi
  • Tautas Varas fronte
  • Vakcīnrealitāte Latvijā
  • Valentīns Jeremjevs
There is a growing concern that one of outcomes of fighting coronavirus can and will be a growing rate of domestic violence. A week after announcing lockdown, the amount of police calls related to domestic violence in Riga doubled. After dropping recently, it is still higher than usual.

Police calls related to domestic violence in Riga before and after lockdown (RPP; 28.03.20).

In the interim, majority tend to enjoy good food on couch, and kind of embrace with self-isolation well since it is nothing new to Latvians. Many are annoyed, from both camps, but keep it together. Some take a break form the city deep in the forest or by the beach since the weather is great and winters are long. Some are just dump and visit very popular places instead of trying out something remote (despite warnings by the government and "Latvian State Forests" that have closed several popular nature trails at watching platforms since 28 March).

Those living in microraions and high-rise suburban panel houses are disinfecting handrails and leaving toothpicks at lifts for pushing buttons.

By 29 march, it seems that things in Riga are slowly, precautiously, yet unstoppably returning back to normal or balancing in control. People have started to make bets on how many positive covid-19 cases there will be every next day, and to share memes about the UK. There is enough toilet paper for everyone, buckwheat is back in town.



* Sources: LSM.lv; SPKC.gov.lv; Ltv.lv; 1188.lv; RPP;

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