Latvia is first country to reimpose lockdown in Europe’s new Covid wave
Baltic state once seen as coronavirus success story announces month of restrictions including curfew
The prime minister, Krišjānis Kariņš, blamed Latvia’s low vaccination rate for the surge in hospital admissions. Photograph: ReutersPjotr Sauer in Moscow
Wed 20 Oct 2021 13.06 BST
Latvia has announced a month-long Covid-19 lockdown after an unprecedented surge in infections, becoming the first country in Europe to reimpose far-reaching restrictions amid a new wave of cases in countries across the continent.
The Baltic country has one of the highest rates of new Covid cases relative to population in the world, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after successfully keeping the virus at bay for months.
“Our health system is in danger … The only way out of this crisis is to get vaccinated,” the prime minister, Krišjānis Kariņš, said on Monday evening at an emergency government meeting. He said the country’s low vaccination rate was to blame for the surge in hospital admissions.
Only 57% of the 1.9 million Latvians are fully vaccinated, well below the EU average of 74%. The government imposed a month-long night-time curfew, from 8pm to 5am, this week and closed schools and all non-essential shops.
“I have to apologise to the already vaccinated,” Kariņš said, adding that only essential manufacturing, construction and critical jobs would be allowed to continue in person.
Last week, the Latvian president, Egils Levits, tested positive for coronavirus, forcing Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, who had met Levits a day earlier, to self-isolate.
Latvia was for a long time viewed as one of Europe’s few coronavirus success stories, recording fewer than 3,000 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.
But critics say a sluggish and uneven vaccination rate has led to the rise in infections.
Ilze Viņķele, Latvia’s former health minister, who oversaw the country’s first two coronavirus waves, said: “We knew that certain groups, especially older citizens, as well as those from less affluent socioeconomic backgrounds, were sceptical to take the vaccine. But unfortunately we have not been able to address this divide effectively.
“Now we are forced to go into a lockdown, and those Latvians who actually got vaccinated will feel frustrated as they have been playing by the rules all along.”
Viņķele added that vaccination uptake in Latvia varied geographically, with some portions of the country recording a vaccination rate of less than 25%.
Daniels Pavļuts, the country’s health minister, has previously blamed “disinformation” about vaccines in Russian-language media for vaccine scepticism among Latvia’s large Russian-speaking population.
Latvia is the first country in Europe to reimpose a strict lockdown as the fresh Covid wave gathers pace across the continent.
The World Health Organization said there was a 7% rise in new coronavirus cases across Europe last week, the only region in the world where cases increased, according to the health body.
The pandemic has especially hit lower-vaccinated countries in central and eastern Europe, where a large chunk of the population has still not had the jab and vaccine scepticism is widespread.
Poland’s health minister, Adam Niedzielski, said on Wednesday the country had experienced an “explosion of the pandemic in the last two days” and warned the Covid situation was “becoming very serious”. Poland’s daily number of cases had exceeded 5,000 for the first time since May. Neighbouring Slovakia reported 3,480 new cases on Tuesday, its highest daily tally since the spring, according to health ministry data.
Bulgaria on Tuesday recorded its highest Covid death rate since late March, and the authorities made vaccine passports compulsory for visiting gyms, museums, cafes and other public places to stop the spread of the virus.
In Romania and Ukraine local hospitals have found themselves under intense pressure, as the two countries have been posting record numbers of Covid deaths this month.
In Russia, which has been reporting record daily deaths and has a vaccination rate dramatically below the EU’s, with only a third of its population vaccinated, a new set of restrictions was announced on Tuesday. In Moscow, unvaccinated citizens aged over 60 were ordered to stay at home for four months and vaccine passports were introduced in several regions.
Moscow will go into a full lockdown if coronavirus infections continue to increase in the capital, a government order that was sent to businesses in the Russian capital on Wednesday said.
The order, seen by the Guardian, would close all non-essential businesses, including restaurants, shopping malls and museums as well as suspend planned medical procedures from 30 October to 7 November.
The order said that the lockdown would come into effect if the total number of new coronavirus cases in the capital over the next seven days surpasses the number of infections recorded in the previous week. The measures, labelled as a “short-term lockdown” in the document, would amount to Russia’s strictest coronavirus restrictions since spring 2020.
Russia has so far rejected a nationwide lockdown, citing economic concerns, and restaurants, bars and theatres in the capital remain open. Instead, Moscow announced on Tuesday plans to reintroduce remote work as well as mandatory vaccinations for service workers to slow the surging fourth wave of the coronavirus.
And on Wednesday, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, ordered a week-long paid holiday to curb the spread of infections.
“I urge citizens to actively vaccinate. We are talking about your health here,” Putin said during a meeting with officials.
With colder weather and few restrictions, the virus also looks to be regaining strength in heavily vaccinated countries such as the UK and the Netherlands. New coronavirus infections in the Netherlands rose 44% over the last week as several of its hospitals announced they would cut back on regular care to deal with a growing number of hospital admissions among the unvaccinated.