Society Archives – Institute of Economics
Task of the science is to serve
people.

– Tolstoy –

Science is the captain, and
practice the soldiers.

– Leonardo da Vinci –

Frontiers of science are like the
horizon: the more we approach
it, the more it moves away.

– Boiste –

The fantasy is more important
than knowing.

– Albert Einstein –

Science – it means organized
knowledge.

– Spencer –

Freedom for the science the
same as the air for a living soul.

– Poincaré –

Research area of all sciences is
endless.

– Pascal –

System of science must be
looked at as the system of
nature: all in it is endless and
necessary.

– Cuvier –

Scientific plan without working
hypothesis is a skeleton without
living body.

– Hirschfeld-

The main research subject of
mankind is the human.

– Goethe –

All is important in science.

– Heine –

Books must be results of
sciences, but sciences not results
of books.

– Bacon –

Scientist is not the one, who
gives the right answers, but the
one, who asks the right
questions.

– Claude Lévi-Strauss –

The more we will seek for the
truth outside us, the more we
will move away of it. The more
we will be able to understand
who we are, the more the truth
will assert us in ourselves.

– Antonio Meneghetti –

Before being dictated the nature
needs to be obeyed.

– Bacon –

A true scientist is not one who
has more acquired, but one who
has more understood.

– Leibniz –

Science – to know how the
being acts. To know the action
of the being.

– Antonio Meneghetti –

Science is benefactor of
mankind.

– Berthelot –

Home » Briefings » Society

Latvia social briefing: Latvia is an increasingly popular destination for health tourism

Latvia is an ideal place to pay a visit for medical and well-being tourism. It offers a wide range of affordable medical services. Users of this service in Latvia have not only the opportunity to obtain high-quality services for improving health but also, receive a unique opportunity to gain insight into Latvia’s glorious nature and cultural and historical heritage. Every year around 10 thousand visitors travel to Latvia in health tourism to improve their well-being. According to data, representatives of various countries from around the world have traveled to Latvia in medical tourism: Germany, China, Britain, Finland, Ukraine, Sweden, Lithuania, Norway, Estonia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Russia, France, Azerbaijan, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and other countries.[1]

In the last years, health tourism has become a growing industry. Between 2017 and 2023, the average growth in this sector is projected to reach around 15% annually.[2] This is due to the increasing number of opportunities for customers to improve their current health at friendly prices, as well as at the same time, in cooperation with the tourism sector and local authorities, tourists are given the opportunity to explore the cultures of different countries. The greatest demand for medical tourism is shown by people from countries such as Sweden, Ireland.[3] There are different reasons for the consumers why they choose to carry out different procedures abroad. One explanation is that, in both Western and Nordic countries, price levels are much higher than in Eastern European countries.[4] Consequently, people choose to perform some medical procedures that tend to be high-priced, elsewhere. In addition, consumers choose to go to medical tourism to carry out manipulations that are not available in their own country or because of faster service abroad as well.

The most popular healthcare services of foreigners in Latvia are dentistry, gynecology, and urology, beauty, as well as general medicine. According to the survey, people choose to go in medical tourism to Latvia because of technology, as well as low costs.[5]

The 2018 summary of comparisons of medical manipulation costs with other countries shows that medical services in Latvia are 5 to 10 times cheaper than in the United States. However, comparing the costs of medical treatment with Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom, the cost of medical services in Latvia is 2 to 3 times lower.[6] Latvian clinics are characterized by a well-thought price policy without hidden premiums. Service prices in Latvia are competitive in the Baltic Sea region, lower than in Western and Scandinavian countries, which allows patients to save between 50 and 70% of costs.

These days, Latvia’s health centers – rehabilitation complexes, clinics – are high-level. By combining professional knowledge of Latvian doctors, as well as modern medical treatment facilities, an effective result of the improvement in patient health is expected. Latvia is a popular destination not only for medical tourists but also for future doctors from different countries around the world who choose to study medicine in Latvia.[7] In order to qualify as a doctor in Latvia, students must acquire internationally recognized education, as well as constantly learn newer, more effective medical treatment methods. Most often, Latvian doctors supplement their qualifications in foreign training, as well as in the exchange of experience programs. The most knowledgeable and noteworthy doctors have also carried out international exemplary operations. Only competent specialists work with medical tourists. It should be noted that due to the geographical situation, doctors manage both English and Russian, thereby ensuring a mutual understanding between the doctor and the patient. If necessary, interpreter services shall also be provided.

The proposed health care in Latvia meets the standards of the world’s leading clinics while improving the level of prices for consumers. In work with medical tourists, they are offered only equipment in accordance with international quality standards. Every year Latvian doctors, together with medical specialists from other countries, develop a variety of scientific studies, thereby promoting operational disease diagnostics, as well as effective patient therapy.

Specialists in the Latvian medical sector want to ensure the best possible quality of service for their patients in order to promote a high level of wellbeing. For this reason, Latvian health authorities maintain close cooperation relations with the leaders of the world’s medical equipment manufacturers. Medical equipment is regularly updated to ensure compliance with international standards. One of the reasons why people choose to travel to Latvia is modern medical equipment, thus quickly and painlessly obtaining fast and accurate results of the medical testing. Innovative testing methods are available in Latvia, some of the methods are unique in the Baltic and Eastern Europe.

For example, in May 2019 the only PET/CT equipment was introduced in Latvia, which allows receiving more accurate results of testing for patients with oncological, neurological, cardiac, and other diseases to be obtained at an early stage. This technology provides early detection of cancer disease and patient safety during the examination. This procedure is one of the most accurate methods of cancer diagnosis that combines the images, thereby obtaining a quick and accurate insight into the spread of the disease process.[8] It is important to note that this technology is currently the only one in Central and Eastern Europe.

Prior to going to medical treatment institutions in Latvia, close cooperation is established with the patients, and personalized medical treatment is created for them. In addition, on request, services such as welcome at the airport, escorts, interpreters shall be provided to ensure as much comfort as possible. Treatment methods have been developed in Latvia for patients of any age, both adults and children, starting from the age of the infant. During the visit, patients may stay in hotels or sheltered hotel-type rooms with all amenities.

The most popular destinations for health tourism are the resort city Jurmala, as well as the capital city Riga. Several sanatoria, rehabilitation centers are available in Jurmala, which offers a wide range of services – water procedures, massages, readjustments, arts treatments, and other procedures. People choose to travel to sanatoria from abroad most often in summer because most of the sanatoria are on a 5-minute walk from the Baltic Sea, where people can spend time after treatment procedures in a peaceful climate of seaside and pine forests. In Jurmala, there are also a lot of concerts and events with artists from around the world during the summer period. Health tourists have the opportunity not only to improve their health status but also to enjoy the Latvian climate, visit cultural events and explore Latvia’s cultural and historical heritage.

Riga is chosen by those health tourists who have to undergo medical manipulation. There are many high-class clinics in Riga that provide services in sectors such as dentistry, reconstructive, and plastic surgery, aesthetic medicine, ophthalmology, neurology, and the treatment of psychiatric neuroses. After performing clinical manipulation, it is possible for patients to become acquainted with Riga – the capital of Latvia. Riga is one of the oldest cities in Latvia. There are very well-preserved Art Nouveau buildings in this city, a glorious old town where buildings of different ages can be seen. To add Riga’s residents are very kind and caring to tourists because they manage both Russian and English languages.

Latvia is an increasingly popular destination for health tourism. This is mainly due to the range of various benefits – the availability of modern medical equipment, low costs, professional doctors, providing maximum comfort to their patients.

Foreigners choose to travel to Latvia not only because of the beneficial supply of medical services but also in order to improve their well-being and physical state by participating in various sports activities. In recent years, marathons of different popular sports have become more popular in Latvia, gathering participants from different countries around the world. The most popular public marathons in Latvia are the cycling marathon and the running marathon, which have already become a traditional event for Latvia’s largest cities.

One of the most familiar and brightest examples is the Riga Marathon, which gathers several tens of thousands of runners from more than 80 countries annually. [9]The Riga marathon has become a tradition for the most active citizens of Riga in recent years, as well as a great opportunity for tourists to get to know Riga by running. The marathon involves a number of running distances that are suited to both professionals and families with children.

The Riga marathon is internationally recognized as one of the planet’s top-class marathons. The World Athletics Association has recognized the Riga marathon as a noteworthy marathon, regranting the Golden Label nomination annually. This high assessment, which was given only to the Riga marathon in Northern Europe, attracts more and more tourists and sports enthusiasts from different countries around the world every year. This nomination has secured the status of the most important marathon for the Riga marathon in Northern Europe. In addition, the Riga marathon is included as one of the 175 best marathons in the world, in which runners can qualify for the World’s Championship in a marathon in different age groups.

[1] https://healthtravellatvia.lv/medicinas-turisms-latvija/

[2] Allied Analytics LLP. Medical Tourism Market by Treatment Type – Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2017-2023 September 2017

[3] Eurobarometer

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/news/themes-in-the-spotlight/price-levels-2018

[5] Dr. Juris Hāzners, Dr. Ņina Linde: tirgus pētījums par latvijas veselības tūrisma attīstības perspektīvām ārvalstu iedzīvotājiem, SIA “Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmijas Ekonomikas institūts”, 2018

[6] https://healthtravellatvia.lv/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/proceduru_cenas_tabula-en.jpg

[7] The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia “Report on Latvia’s higher education in 2018”

[8] https://arsmed.lv/2019/05/ars-diagnostikas-klinika-iepazistina-ar-baltija-pirmo-digitalo-pet-ct-iekartu/

[9] http://rimirigamarathon.com/lv/par-maratonu/world-athletics-gold-label/

Latvia social briefing: Social development trends in 2020

Some experts say that the following years will be crucial for the sustainability of  Latvia. The main reason for that is the decrement in the number of population. In the last 30 years, 450 thousand people have emigrated from Latvia, which forms a significant part of the total population of Latvia.[1] At the same  period of time the overall amount of permanent residents has fallen down for 700 thousand, which is approximately 28%.[2]In order for Latvia to experience the decrement of emigrated citizens, it is essential to make wise political decisions and ensure the growth of the level of welfare in Latvia. The year 2020 will bring changes in social field to Latvia, mainly in the medical industry, and will improve the support of people who are under social vulnerability.

In 2019 the public health care sector was in the epicenter of discussion. The doctors went on marches and expressed their frustration with the current medical system in various ways of protests.  Mainly the medical staff was unsatisfied with the planned amount of funding for the healthcare sector in the forthcoming years. Although the Health Care Financing Law, which came in force in the Year 2018, determined that the income of medical personnel should be raised by 20% annually, practically the raise was not that high.  Undoubtedly, it is in the best interests of politicians to keep the overall climate peaceful. Therefore, it is forecasted that the medical staff could experience increment of salaries by around 20% in the Year 2020 as it was initially planned considering the Health Care Financing Law.  The Minister of Health Ilze Vinķele stressed that it is possible to find additional funding for healthcare if the government would raise taxes that affect wealthier citizens. However, this question is still surrounded by discussion, and the outcome may result in several ways.

The second change in health industry is expected in the pharmacy sector. Currently Latvia has the biggest Value Added Tax for medication in Baltics  and the fifth largest in the European Union– 12 % . [3] In addition reviewing the data of the Competition Council of the Republic of Latvia it has been concluded that the added pricing of wholesalers is the biggest in the Baltics. However, the represantives of  wholesalers have previously stressed  that the prices of medication will fall as the Value Added Tax will decrease. It is most likely that the medication is going to get cheaper in the Year 2020. Therefore ensuring benefits in particular for people who suffer from chronic diseases. It is worth noting that the second initiative from the medication wholesalers was to increase the total amount of government’s funding  to compensatable medication products. However, there is a long process of debates ahead between the government and medication wholesalers.      Currently, there are two possible options for lowering the prices of medication. It is clear to say that the costs of medicine will not be raised in the Year 2020 in Latvia. And in the best-case scenario, medication will get cheaper, thus making health care more accessible to people who are under the risk of social exclusion.      The year 2020 is going to bring changes in the field of the education sector. For several years the Latvian government has been preparing the new educational reform, which is going to be implemented starting from September 1st, 2020. The new educational reform is going to be applied in all schools in Latvia, thus affecting teachers, students, and their parents as well. The reform is focused on developing a new approach to educating pupils from the age of preschool until the age of highschool. As a result, the students will obtain skills and knowledge that is necessary nowadays. One of the main priorities of the new educational reform is for students to acquire skillsets as critical thinking, problem-solving, innovation, self-learning, cooperation, civil activism, and digital skills. With the implementation of the reform, the new education system will follow more after the Western countries’ model. It is worth noting that in recent years some schools had already successfully adapted the teaching process to the new standards. However, in most of the cases currently nor the parents, nor the students have not received a sufficient amount the information about the upcoming changes.  Thus it may cause some misunderstandings and misinterpretation at the beginning of the following school year.

As previously mentioned,  within the years’ demographics has become one of the most pressing issues for Latvia. Reviewing the data from the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, it can be concluded that since the Renewal of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, the amount of residents in Latvia has been falling annually. The Strategic Goal of Latvia, which was accepted by the Latvian Parliament in 2010, suggested that in the Year 2030, the total amount of citizens should be bigger than 2.02 million. Afterward, in the Year 2015, it was noted by the Government of Latvia that if the total amount of residents in Latvia in 2020 is going to be 1.93 million, then the goal for 2030 will be reachable. However,  the data from the Year 2019 show that the total amount of citizens in Latvia at that time were 1,909 million, which was  already less than the goal for 2020.[4] For the upcoming years, the Government of Latvia has to focus on at least sustaining the current population. The rate of births and deaths per year is also unpleasant for the sustainability of Latvia. For the last years, it has remained negative, and it is doubted that it would experience a change in 2020.

As long as the natural population growth remains negative, it can cause chains of problems for the future generations of Latvia. Because of the population aging trend, which is already currently observed in Latvia, it can lead to a lack of workforce, thus reinforcing problems like shortage of tax income and increasing social budget expenditure. Although the Latvian government has provided the families with children with various kinds of facilitation, the data shows that more action is needed. Therefore it is forecasted that demography is going to be one of the main priorities for the Latvian government in the Year 2020.

The social challenges caused by the decrement of population and urbanization can directly impact the rural areas in the near future. Some experts say that the countryside regions may be in a particularly difficult situation. Because of the urbanization trend in Latvia, it is observed that people are increasingly moving to cities. As a result, rural  areas could be experiencing a long-term shortage of taxpayers – a lack of working hands and consumers – and the consequences of the aging population.

The State Buget of 2020 has made some contributions to the social development of Latvia. Following the European Commisins recommendations to decrease the social inequality between the European Union countries there have been made modifications to the monthly maximum differentiated non-taxable minimum thus experiencing raise from 230 Euros to 300 Euros. In addition, changes were made for the upper limit to which the maximum differentiated non-taxable minimum is applied – from 440 Euros to 500 Euros.  The Government of Latvia is also planning to work on solutions for increasing the differentiated non-taxable minimum to 500 Euros per month.In order to ensure social security for the most socially vulnerable groups

of scoiety, it was accepted by the Parliament of Latvia to raise the minimum income level for both disabled people and seniors in 2020.

One of the social development trends that have already come in force in 2020  is the adjustments to the Law on Government-Funded Pensions, therefore providing that the second level pension is going to be able to inherit. The new Law determines that people will have the option to choose what is going to happen with their pension capital savings accumulated in the second pillar of the pension system in the event of their death.  In case of a resident’s death before reaching the age of retirement, the resident now will have the right to choose whether their savings in the second level of the pension system will be inherited by their spouses or added to the pension savings of another person. However, if the person will not have indicated their willingness regarding the second pension level heritage, the pension capital will be transferred in the Special Budget. The new amendment will socially protect families, especially those in which the spouse is the only one receiving income. Second, it could motivate others to make responsible decisions regarding their pension funds. By that, the new law enforcement could serve as an additional inducement of the decrement of Shadow Economy.

Conclusion       

In the Year 2020 demography, the aging and decrement of the population will remain as one of the most pressing issues in Latvia. It is forecasted that natural growth of the pupulation of Latvia will remain negative as previously. The upcoming Educational reform is going to change the process of education and focus more on developing skills that are necessary to obtain nowadays. The new social development trends of Latvia in 2020 are going to be beneficial for people who are the risk of social vulnerability. People who are at the risk of social exclusion will have a larger amount of income, thus decreasing social inequality. In addition, the prices of medication could experience fall in 2020.  Due to the protests against financing plans in the field of medicine, the medical staff could experience a more significant income raise.

[1] https://www.csb.gov.lv/lv/statistika/statistikas-temas/iedzivotaji/migracija/galvenie-raditaji/imigracija-emigracija-un-saldo

[2] Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia

[3] https://www.statista.com/statistics/458957/vat-rate-on-prescription-only-drugs-in-europe/

[4] Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia

Latvia social briefing: Development of Latvian safety and health issues in February 2020

Latvia plans to create municipal Traffic Safety Index

Latvia has one of the biggest number of deaths rates in road traffic accidents in the European Union. [1]Besides the majority of traffic accidents with injured people are registered in populated areas. Although the number of total deaths in road traffic accidents has decreased in the last years, the Ministry of Transport has decided to implement new tools to reduce the total number of road traffic accidents. [2]The Ministry of Transport plans to establish a local government Traffic Safety Index that would be published annually stating both the most secure and most precarious list of municipalities in Latvia. The purpose of the Traffic Safety Index is to motivate the local governments to pay more focus on road safety improvements in their administrative areas. The proposal on the implementation of the Traffic Safety Index was supported by the Road Safety Board and in the upcoming time the Ministry will start to work on the development of methodology of the Traffic Safety Index. It is planned that the Index will consist of data about the number of accidents, population, cars, and other indicators.

Ministry of Welfare of the Republic of Latvia does not support Parliament’s intention to impose a ban on the adoption of children abroad

The Ministry of Welfare has stated various risks which are related to the announcement of the Human Rights and Public Affairs Commission to establish a moratorium on the adoption of children abroad. Although the moratorium is planned only temporarily until stricter regulation is developed, the Ministry of Welfare has expressed concerns that the preparation process for the amendments to the law may take a long period of time in which for some children the possibility of adoption in families may be deprived.

The current Civil Law provides that a child can be adopted abroad only with the permission of the responsible minister and only if it is not possible to ensure the parenting process for the child in a family in adequate care. The regulatory framework provides that foreign adoption is the last solution to ensure quality childhood for children. At the same time, the Ministry of Welfare considers that local adoption should be promoted primarily. Therefore, topics such as strengthening prevention work for families with children so that the child must not enter the adoption system and as well as the development of the child rights protection system with a view to promoting better quality work in local governments in the field of protection of children’s rights, without duplicating the functions of Orphan’s courts and the social service should be considered first.

The minister of Welfare Ramona Petravica stated that even currently each case regarding the adoption of a child abroad is carefully evaluated and in order for a foreign family to adopt a Latvian child they must go through a sufficiently large investigation process. “Overall it is the only way for these children to become a part of a family, especially for teens and children with disabilities or major health problems. Undoubtedly, our priority will always remain and be given to Latvian families that are willing to adopt a child. However, if we are not able to ensure adoption for a child in Latvia, the child should not have to live in institutions for all its childhood.”

Latvia launches new social project 

There are currently approximately 20 thousand people in Latvia who are affected by mental disorders and for which the first or second disability group has been determined. Due to the stereotypes and prejudices of society, the social networking opportunities for people in Latvia suffering from mental disorders are limited. To explain to the general public the importance and potential of inclusion of these people the Ministry of Welfare has started an informative campaign. In the upcoming years, it is planned to implement deinstitutionalized care to include people with mental or physical disorders in the general public. As part of the campaign, the diagnosis of mental disorders such as autism, Duane syndrome, depression, schizophrenia, and vegetative dystonia will be discussed more often. It is planned to inform the general public about common mental disorders and about what is essential to remember in communication with people who suffer from them.

By the middle of the 20th century, providing services to long-term social-care institutions was the way how the state took care of people with mental disorders. The institutions used to provide the daily needs of the most vulnerable members of society and, at the same time, cordoned them to protect fellow people from possible aggression and other dangerous behavior. However, the development of medicine has helped to reduce the noticeable signs and symptoms of people who suffer from mental disorders. The practical need to separate people with mental disorders has been lost, and now knowledge, that is available to society, allows to see people behind their diagnosis – personality with both individual needs and rights. The existence of these institutions entails the separation of people with mental disorders from the general society, so they are forced to live together. People with mental disorders do not have sufficient control over their lives and the decisions that affect them, and the rules of the institution are prioritized over the individual’s needs.

There have been observed various disadvantages in institutional care such as lack of personality, strict routine, and social isolation. In the social care institutions, the personalities of the patients have been directly impacted – they are characterized by impersonality and lack of privacy. People living in institutions often do not have any personal property that symbolizes their individuality, including even private clothing and in most cases,  they must share living space with others. The patients of the institutions must follow a strict routine and follow a regime that determines a daily sleeping schedule, eating habits and spare time schedule. People living in social care institutions often do not have the opportunities to participate in social inclusion activities – on the contrary, there is social alienation between people with mental disorders and others, because the events are mostly organized on the premises of the social care institution.

In the context of project “Deinstitutionalization”, it is planned to provide social services with an aim to include people with mental disorders in society and to strengthen the public awareness of the human rights of people with mental disorders as well. To strengthen the social inclusion for the vulnerable members of society in cooperation with 115 out of 119 municipalities of Latvia it is planned to offer various activities. For example, local governments will create group apartments or group houses where people with mental disorders will live permanently while receiving the necessary support, as well as day-care centers. In addition, the acquisition of employments skills for people with mental disorders will be promoted by established specialized workshops. Besides, the process of social inclusion support for the inclusion process will be provided by both support groups and consultations from various specialists as well. Within this project, it is planned that people with mental disorders, which require periodic support, will be able to receive additional care at home.

It has been stated by the organizers of the project that the expenses of institutional care and social services-based society are roughly the same. However, social services-based society provides a significantly better quality of life for people and therefore can be seen as a more efficient use of taxpayer’s money.

Coronavirus reached also Latvia

Although there was not registered any official case of Coronavirus in Latvia in February 2020 it was confirmed by the Estonian Health Board that the some of the diagnosed patients of coronavirus in Estonia had traveled through the International Airport of Riga, which is the main airport in Latvia, and later drove to Estonia, where the patients had noticed the symptoms of the virus. In February 2020 the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Latvia had already been making virus containment measures prior. The State Operational Medical Commission decided to extend the control measures of coronavirus to include additional countries and territories such as China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, from which special precautions need to be taken upon return.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted the development and economic tendencies of Latvia in 2020. It is worth noting that following the global economic development trends of 2020 it was previously forecasted that the growth of GDP in Latvia will experience decrement comparing to the previous years as well. However, during the prior analysis of economic growth in 2020, the potential economic impact of COVID-19 had not been taken into account.  Therefore, in February 2020 the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Latvia announced that the growth of GDP in 2020 could only reach 2,2% and not 2,8% as initially planned. It is doubted that the total growth of GDP could potentially amortize the negative economic consequences created by the virus by that causing a potential economic recession. Since Latvia’s economy is both small and open and is particularly affected by the global events the continuation of the outbreak of virus could affect the economy even further.

Summary

In February 2020 the Latvian government had taken on multiple actions to contribute to the social development of the country. Since Latvia has one of the biggest number of deaths rates in road traffic accidents in the European Union, the government of Latvia is planning to implement Traffic Safety Index to raise awareness of the local municipalities to pay more attention to road safety developments in their administrative areas.  With the Ministry of Welfare disproval of Parliament’s intention to impose a ban on the adoption of children abroad and concerns about the impact of the amendments on orphans, the Ministry encourages to raise more attention to the current problems of children protection rights. In addition, to contribute to the inclusion in society of the people who suffer from mental disorders the Ministry of Welfare has started the deinstitutionalization process of social care institutions in Latvia. Although in February 2020 the government of Latvia had been already making Coronavirus control measures, it is doubted that the economic growth could amortize the negative economic consequences caused by the virus.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Road_safety_statistics_-_characteristics_at_national_and_regional_level&oldid=463733

[2] https://www.csdd.lv/celu-satiksmes-negadijumi/celu-satiksmes-negadijumu-skaits

Latvia social briefing: The outbreak of Coronavirus has massively impacted social development of Latvia

Because of the global outbreak of Coronavirus, on the 2nd of March, the first officially confirmed case of the Coronavirus was detected in Latvia. Since the first registered case in March and even prior the government of Latvia has been taking serious virus prevention measures, which have helped to limit the outbreak of the virus. Although by the end of March 2020 there were confirmed only 400 cases, it is already seen that the upcoming months will be economically challenging for Latvia. Only in less than a month the environment of Latvia has completely shifted – businesses are facing serious issues: education institutions are closed, unemployment is growing rapidly and the health system of Latvia is in front of a serious challenge.

Observing both the global and national trends of Coronavirus outbreak on 12th of March representatives of the Latvian government declared emergency situation. The new amendments enforced to cancel and prohibit public gatherings such as remembrance, culture, sports, public meetings and marches to no more than fifty persons. The declaration of emergency situation in Latvia has particularly impacted the education system as all of the education institutions like universities and schools have been closed and while the emergency situation will continue the students will have to obtain their knowledge remotely with the help of online tools. The digitalization process of education has so far been difficult since the current Latvian online tools for the education system have showed incapability.

As the situation continued to escalate and more people were detected to be infected with the Coronavirus the government of Latvia approved stricter regulations. The new amendments stipulate that only two members of a household can be outside the house and that a distance of two meters must be maintained. These amendments were made based on the fact that a large proportion of the population of Latvia continued to visit public places after the declaration of emergency situation and therefore the risk of the infection increased. Besides there were also made amendments to the amount of fine in case of violation of the new amendments – up to 3500 Euros for natural person and up to 5000 Euros for legal persons.  To make extensive epidemiological investigations telecommunications operators will be required to provide data regarding the location of Covid-19 infected while still following the data protection rules.

In order to sustain the enterprises government has enforced support system to ensure sustainability of the companies. During the emergency situation the government will cover the costs of incapacity sheet of employee therefore reducing the costs for companies. Additional measures taken to ensure sustainability of Latvian companies are the changes in tax policies.[1]After the request of entrepreneurs regarding the changes in total turnover, export and direct influence of the declaration of emergency situation the government of Latvia enforced amendments regarding tax payments.  It is planned that the upcoming tax payment will be divided by the State Revenue Service or postpone for up to three years without payment of delay.

In the latest month, the government of Latvia has been taking strong measures to ensure prevention of deeper crisis. On March 19th 2020 during the emergency government meeting there was considered a proposal to support companies in the event of crisis downtime. On March 24th the Regulations Regarding the Allowance for Idle Time for the Employees Affected by COVID-19 was passed. Currently the enterprises who represent the sectors, which have been included in the list of the sector affected by the crisis published by the Cabinet and experienced decrement of revenue for more than 50% in March 2020 (compared to March 2019), can apply for the support. It has been determined by the government of Latvia that the allowance for idle time will amount to 75% of the average monthly salary, but not exceeding 700 Euros per month.[2]

With the outbreak of Coronavirus and declaration of emergency situation has impacted the growth of unemployment rates in Latvia. In March 2020 the National Employment Agency received notifications from 24 employers of a total of 3858 collective redundancies. [3]Redundancies have been reported by various sectors of economy such as transport, accommodation, wholesales, real estate, art, entertainment, forestry, finance, insurance. The representatives of National Employment Agency stated that there are still enough registered vacancies for the unemployed. Despite that the situation is incomparably more complicated with national Latvian airline company airBaltic, which intends to relieve around 700 employees from their duties including pilots, flight attendees and technical workers. To find a job in field, which is directly related to aviation, it is foreseen that people will have to wait for airBaltic to resume operation or look for a job abroad.

The current crisis has already made an impact on the labour market as the average number of new job vacancies openings has decreased by more than 60% with the introduction of a state of emergency in the country.[4] The enforcement of emergency situation has contributed to the cool down of the Latvian labour market. Enterprises which, have been significantly affected by the Covid-19 crisis most likely will reduce the number of employees, review the salary of employees, reduce workload, apply for downtime benefits and use other available options. One of the most affected field regarding the largest drop in jobs vacancies are woodworking experiencing 45% decrement, media, marketing – 42%, transport – 33%, telecommunications – 31%.

At the same time there are some companies in Latvia, which are in search for new employees since they are facing lack of workforce because of the growing demand. These include companies whose business processes have previously involved teleworking, including ICT companies and business service centers, as well as companies that have significantly increased their operational capacity in the current situation, such as food, disinfectants and other current demand – manufacturers of goods, supply companies, retailers of food and household goods, especially those with e-commerce channels.

Along with that, additional challenge that is foreseen to be brought up is the income inequality. Even prior the pandemic, the social inequality rates have been one of the highest in European Union.[5] The Covid-19 crisis, has in particular made the weak-points of the governance of Latvian economy, such as social protection, tax evasion even more unstable.

March 2020 has become one of the greatest challenges for the medical system of Latvia. On 6th March the first case of Covid-19 in Latvia was detected and since then the number of infected people had increased up to 446.[6] Data from Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows that more than quarter – 26% of the infected people are in age of 30 to 39 while other age groups such as 20 to 29, 40 to 49, 50 to 59, and 60 and older share approximately the same proportion – 17 to 19 %, 5% of the infected were children. During March 2020 approximately 15810 tests were made, from which 2,8% confirmed positive Covid-19 results. In most cases the infected people suffer from mild symptoms as in March 2020 only one death case was registered.

Despite the growing number of infected people, the public health sector has demonstrated great results. Because of the precautions taken mostly the sources of the infection is traceable and additional strategy that has been implemented it targeted Coronavirus testing, paying more attention to the risk groups.[7] To prevent the outbreak of the virus in medical institutions there is made targeted testing on risk groups such as an example all patients with pneumonia hospitalized in the hospital admissions department, pharmacists, doctors, social care workers, with symptoms of acute respiratory infections etc. Therefore, optimising the testing and prevent the spread of the virus in public institutions. Additionally, to support medical persons, epidemiologists, social health workers and others who are involved with limiting the expansion of the virus thus working under conditions of high risk and work load will receive raise of salary up to 50% for the following three months.

Summary

During March 2020 the outbreak of Coronavirus has massively impacted social development of Latvia. Education institutions have been temporarily closed, there have been made serious border-crossing restrictions and the economy of Latvia is facing serious challenges. With the outbreak of Coronavirus and declaration of emergency situation has impacted the growth of unemployment rates in Latvia. The biggest decrement in open job vacancies has been experienced in woodworking, media, transport industries.  Because of that the government of Latvia has enforced variety of financial tools to amortize the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis, such as amendments in tax policies, allowance for idle time, covering up to 75% of monthly income of employees, who worked previously in the fields that have been mostly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. At the same time industries such as ICT, business service centres are experiencing lack of workforce as the demand for their services is growing. To prevent expansion of the Coronavirus more targeted testing strategies have been implemented paying more focus to the social workers, who have contact with the infected people.

[1] https://lvportals.lv/norises/314276-uznemejiem-atbalsts-nodoklu-atvieglojumu-un-finansu-instrumentu-veida-2020

[2] https://likumi.lv/ta/id/313429-noteikumi-par-dikstaves-pabalstu-darbiniekiem-kurus-skar-covid-19-izplatiba

[3] https://www.apollo.lv/6941247/aprila-pirmajas-dienas-bezdarbnieka-statusam-registrejusies-1792-iedzivotaji?utm_campaign=draugiem_zinas&utm_medium=social&utm_source=draugiem.lv

[4] https://pardarbu.lv/brivo-vakancu-skaits-sarucis-par-vairak-neka-60/?utm_source=mailigen&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Raksts_BrivasVakances

[5] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/People_at_risk_of_poverty_or_social_exclusion

[6] http://www.vm.gov.lv

[7]http://www.vm.gov.lv/lv/aktualitates/preses_relizes/6247_testesana_uz_covid19_bus_merktiecigaka_ipasu_uzmanibu_veltot

Latvia social briefing: The coronavirus pandemic has become a challenge for the Latvian education system: distance learning implementation experience

On March 14th, 2020, the government of Latvia declared an emergency situation due to the global pandemic. Because of that all educational institutions now have been closed for more than a month thus making one of the historically biggest challenges for all members of the education process such as teachers, students, parents, and the Ministry of Education. Although previously there had been developed virtual tools for contribution to the educational process, the capacity of them is insufficient since they were not originally developed for ensuring the learning process for all students of Latvia simultaneously.  The shift of educational approach has been drastic and demanded a fast reaction from all the sides involved. Despite the pressing issues and all the difficulties in such a short period of time, the educational institutions and the government have developed new tools and innovative approaches to ensure the continuation of the remote education process in Latvia.

One of the first challenges right way that restricted ensuring virtual educational process was the students’ limited access to technologies with an internet connection.  A research made by the Ministry of Education in March 2020 showed that approximately 3% , which is around 5300, of the students  studying in school do not have access to nor computer, nor a smartphone with an internet connection, which made it difficult for these students to participate in the distance learning process.[1] In the age group from 1st to 5th grade there were slightly more than 3000 or 3.6% of the total number of children who did not have any smart devices, in 6th-9th grade there were almost 2000 students or 2.8% in total, but from 10th to 12th grade – 361 or 1.22% of the total number of students in the particular age group who did not have the access to the internet. The survey data showed that in schools with less than 100 pupils, the percentage regarding the lack of smart devices is higher – approximately about 4.5% of pupils lacked the smart devices, while on average in the country there were 2.9% who did not have the necessary facilities for distance learning process.

To solve this problem the Ministry of Education by working together with one of the biggest mobile operators in Latvia were able to ensure the needed tools including free of charge internet connection for the students. By far the problem has been solved partially as the Ministry of Education continues to receive notice from large families with one or two devices on a household for 3 or more children by that limiting proper access to virtual education tools in larger families. Because of that there are approximately 2000 pupils who still lack facilities for distance learning process. [2]

To ensure accessibility, quality education content and provide more support to parents, especially in primary school during the distance learning process the Ministry of Education came with an innovative initiative developing a TV channel “Your class”, which aim is to simulate a class environment for students. The lessons consist of 20-minute-long audiovisual materials, in which teachers, enthusiasts in their field from different cities of Latvia, present the subjects in an interesting and student-friendly way. The curriculum is designed so that the younger students can complete a task after each subject and move on to the next subject. The project “Your class” solves various problems, that have been identified during the first weeks of distant learning approach.  One of the key problems for ensuring distance learning was that there was a crucial necessity to ensure high quality study environment for pupils in grades from first to sixth. Experts of education system have claimed that for this age group it is practically impossible to obtain such a large amount of study material independently. [3] Additionally, the project will also facilitate distance learning in families with several students. Besides that, with the implementation of this project equal educational opportunities are created throughout Latvia, reducing inequalities that arise due to the lack or inaccessibility of teachers or infrastructure.

During April 2020 the main discussion regarding distant education process revolved around State examination. By far the Ministry of Education is still planning to hold exams for 9th and 12th grade students, and has currently elaborated three working plans regarding State examination depending on the development of the pandemic in the continuous months. Currently the Ministry of education has only postponed the exams for a certain period. However, depending on the development of the Coronavirus there will be made some amendments to the content of exam, or the exams will be canceled completely replacing the results with final grades. Additionally, it has been proposed to hold combined examination for 9th grade students instead of four separate exams. However, the representatives of the Latvian Association of Local Governments and the Union of Educators and Researchers recommended that in the case of 9th grade, exam this year should be cancelled and that the innovation –  combined exam – should not be introduced especially in the times when the education process is already difficult. Additionally, a recent survey showed that 88% of Latvian 9th and 12th grade students have expressed that they do not feel fully prepared for the upcoming exam session.[4]

During April 2020 there had been made survey in 4 days’ time by the Ministry of Education with approximately 60000 respondents focusing on students, parents, and teachers regarding the transformation of education process. The aim of the survey was to was to understand how distance learning takes place in Latvian schools, to identify areas where the Ministry of Education and Science, municipalities and schools can improve the learning process remotely, as well as to get feedback from students, teachers and parents on the organization of the learning process. Overall the implementation of distance learning has been described as good by the respondents. Furthermore, the respondents of the survey had emphasized that there is an operative exchange of information between all parts involved – teachers, students, and their parents. Approximately 99% of the students and parents noted that they have received all the information about distant learning.[5] In addition, 86% of the teachers think that continuing learning remotely has succeeded quite well. However, the teachers have noted that with the implementation of distance learning approach they have been facing various challenges. Almost half of the teachers noted that they are facing additional workload because they have to develop new or adjust the previous educational materials and have to spend more time on giving feedback to their students.   Although the distance learning approach has been identified as overall successful the survey showed that there is one alarming aspect that has not been taken enough into consideration – the overall workload of students. Despite the fact the Ministry of Education and Science has recommended to lower the overall workload of studies by up to 50% in primary schools and at least 10% in high schools[6],  60 % of the students claimed that with the implementation of distance learning they devote more time for their studies as they used to.        The innovations have not only been in implemented in schools but as well in higher education institutions. Latvian university students have already proven that they have been able to create and develop original and practical solutions in various short programs, hackathons. Because of that on April 2020 five universities jointly created a new program “CrisisLab”. The aim of the developed program is to involve students to come to a solution for such pressing issues, which have appeared due to the Coronavirus, in field of education, healthcare, security of organizations and businesses, offering innovative tools and methods to improve distance learning, patient consulting remotely, tackling the economic crisis and other challenges. Students of all Latvian higher education institutions will be able to participate in the program in order to develop solutions to problem situations of local governments and the public sector, industry, non-governmental organizations that have arisen or may arise due to the global pandemic, emergency and restrictions on movement, assembly and social distance. Student teams will be formed to develop solutions, assisted by mentors and experts.

Summary

Although the implementation of distance learning education process has been one of the greatest challenges in history of Latvian education system, the shift to a distance learning process has been successful with the help of innovative approaches and solutions. While the overall transition to distance learning process has been described as smooth, Latvian authorities are still facing challenges such as lack of smart devices with internet connection and the workload of students. To solve the pressing issues with the lack of smart devices for distance learning, Ministry of Education and Science together with one of the biggest mobile operators in Latvia have come to a solution and were able to provide mobile devices with free internet connection for 3% of the Latvian pupils who did not have any access to mobile devices. This has solved the problem partially as households with larger families do not have enough devices to ensure the distance learning process for all children simultaneously. To simulate the class environment for younger students the Ministry of Education and Science in a week’s time developed a new, innovative TV channel. Survey by the Ministry of Education and Science shows that overall the distance learning process has been seen positively as almost all of the students and their parents have received sufficient information regarding distance learning process. Although 86% of the teachers think that overall the shift to distance learning has been successful, 88% of Latvian 9th and 12th grade students have expressed that they do not feel fully prepared for the upcoming exam session.

[1] https://izm.gov.lv/lv/aktualitates/3978-izm-kopa-ar-partneriem-plano-nodrosinat-5000-viediericu-latvijas-skoleniem

[2] https://www.la.lv/vel-2000-skoleniem-trukst-attalinatajam-macibam-nepieciesamas-viedierices

[3] https://izm.gov.lv/lv/aktualitates/4006-izm-izveido-izglitojosu-tv-kanalu-tava-klase

[4] https://www.db.lv/zinas/88-skolenu-nejutas-pilnvertigi-sagatavoti-eksameniem-495919

[5] https://home.edurio.com/izm-attalinato-macibu-rezultati

[6] https://www.izm.gov.lv/images/MaciesMajas/VISC_Skola2030_Vadlinijas-attalinatam-macibam.pdf

Latvia social briefing: The impact of epidemiological restrictions on Latvian society: social challenges and people’s attitudes

As the overall cases of detected COVID-19 have been decreasing, Latvia is starting to reduce the restrictions regarding Coronavirus. Although during May 2020 the restrictions due to the Coronavirus were reduced such as allowing gatherings up to 25 people and taking down the restrictions due to indoor and outdoor sport activities, new challenges such as rise in domestic violence and inaccessibility to planned medical support are faced. 

9th May gathering shows communication and social challenges of the parliament of Latvia 

During May 2020, a lot of discussion revolved around the celebration of 9th May, when Victory Day over Nazi Germany was celebrated in the former Soviet Union. Today, May 9 has become a mobilizing date, in which some residents of Latvia, which are mostly Russians, demonstrate their sense of community and celebrate it together with broad amount of people. Despite by the enforced restrictions the data from the Municipal Police of Riga shows that during the 9thMay in the timespan of 15 hours around 20 000 people gathered to commemorate this Remembrance Day. [1] This had led to a lot incomprehension in general society regarding the existing epidemiological restrictions. Users of social network platforms, observing the events, accused the State Police of inaction regarding ensuring compliance with the restrictions on gathering in the location, where the event took place. As there were many questions and a great deal of public confusion, the Prime Minister of Latvia requested an explanation from the Minister of the Interior of Latvia that shows that the Minister of the Interior believes that what happened on May 9 this year confirms the successful work of the Ministry of the Interior and its subordinate institutions to ensure public safety and reduce epidemiological risks, while respecting people’s right to visit any park, monument or memorial individually. Law enforcement officers introduced several measures to prevent mass gatherings and violations. In total, the police drew up 46 administrative violation protocols and started 70 administrative proceedings.[2] However, the Prime Minister of Latvia pointed out that he is not completely satisfied with this situation and there is one shortcoming, namely that before May 9, the Minister of the Interior had to explain more clearly to the public the restrictions on gatherings set in the country and call for compliance with these regulations. Additionally, the Prime minister of Latvia stressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that not all people living in Latvia unanimously understand how tragic the Second World War was for Latvia. This shows that much remains to be done in the Latvian education system and integration process.

Covid-19 test groups are increased

Although the overall cumulative morbidity with Covid-19 is decreasing, to ensure the further decrement of active Covid-19 cases the Ministry of Health has expanded testing groups. In order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce epidemiological safety risks, COVID-19 tests will also be performed on pre-school employers and international transport providers without symptoms. This decision was taken in order to minimize the risk of infection, given that pre-school staff work with children, while staff from international transport providers regularly travel abroad. Until now, if these people had symptoms of the disease, the family doctor could send them for COVID-19 tests. Now the employer will also be able to refer for tests if it is decided that they are necessary, even if the person has no symptoms. The employer, such as the head of the pre-school in question, will form a list of people and submit it to the Emergency Medical Service, which will then organize the tests. Additionally, the Ministry of Health is specifically encouraging people with chronic diseases to take the free COVID-19 test even in the absence of symptoms. Asymptomatic testing of chronic patients has been offered by the state since the second half of April, but people rarely use it. It is especially important for chronic patients to detect COVID-19 early, as it endangers their health and lives.

Domestic violence is on the rise

In recent weeks, more and more women are seeking help and reporting domestic violence. Municipal police brigades receive a particularly large number of calls regarding family conflicts. With the outbreak of Coronavirus, the number of received calls has almost doubled. The information from the Municipal Police institutions of Latvia shows that more frequent cases have been confirmed not only because family relationships worsen during the crisis, but also because neighbors spend more time at their homes and witness the domestic violence therefore informing the Municipal Police. Additionally, the victims of violence have also been more active in seeking help in recent months. The number of crisis phone calls has increased by 36%.[3] The increase of domestic violence has raised discussion on how to strengthen municipal social services.

The general attitude of society towards Covid-19 restriction

During May 2020, the Latvian Research Centre SKDS had made survey on the general opinion regarding current restrictions. Overall, it is seen that the general public perceive the limitation as cumbersome but necessary.[4] When asked how the respondent assesses the current restrictions, the vast majority – almost 70% – of the respondents have acknowledged them as appropriate. At the same time, one in ten has assessed the restrictions as too strict and 15% of respondents – on the contrary – believe that the restrictions should be larger. Although most of the society has found the restrictions to be adequate the respondents have noted that the restrictions have had effects to their daily lives. Most often respondents answered that the biggest challenge is definitely the narrowed range of health care services. Almost three quarters of those surveyed say that it has caused several problems. Many also cited a ban on meeting people from other households – 67%, and practically as often respondents said that they were hampered by the interruption of other face-to-face services and the repeated call to stay at home even if there were no signs of illness. Analyzing data and looking at what people find most intolerable, that is, what is most often said to have been the most challenging restriction, the common answer is the restricted access to health services, followed by distance learning – almost 14% of respondents indicated that it has been difficult for them. Additional data regarding the adaptation of the Coronavirus restrictions show that there have been no difficulties regarding adapting to the disinfection activities. Two-thirds of the respondents stressed that the closure of shopping centers on weekends has not caused particular difficulties as well. Only 3% have admitted that they have most often not followed the regulation on the restrictions of the crisis, 16% of the respondents noted that they do not follow all the restrictions. On the other hand, the absolute majority – 80% – have stated that they have most often acted within the set restrictions.

The provision of planned health care services is expanded

Less than two weeks after the declaration of the state of emergency, the Ministry of Health partially restricted health care services in both public and private medical institutions. Restrictions were in place to protect patients and physicians from possible infection with Covid-19, given the epidemiological situation in the country. Since April, the provision of planned health care services has been partially resumed. As previously mentioned, the accessibility to health care services has caused difficulties for the majority of respondents.  Because of that during May 2020 the availability of planned health care services was expanded. The Ministry of Health noted that, as before, medical institutions must continue to take precautionary measures. They will have to ensure a separate flow of patients, limit the number of patients staying on the premises of the treatment facility at the same time and set a precise time of arrival for healthcare services. Medical institutions and patients will also have to provide personal protective equipment, and disinfection measures will have to be taken after each patient’s visit.

Conclusion

In general, the society of Latvia sees the existing restrictions as difficult but needed. Only a minor proportion of the residents of Latvia do not follow after the enforced limitations regarding the outbreak of Coronavirus. One of the biggest encumbrances for the residents of Latvia has been the narrowed accessibility to planned healthcare services. Therefore, during May 2020, the Ministry of Healthcare accepted the expansion of availability towards health care services. With the declaration of emergency situation, additional challenge in social sector of Latvia has become the increasement of domestic violence as the number of crisis phone calls have increased by 36%. To limit the outbreak of Coronavirus during May 2020 the Ministry of Health expanded the Covid-19 testing groups including pre-school workers and international transport providers without symptoms.

[1] https://www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/ministrs-9maija-policija-stradaja-profesionali-uzvaras-parka-pabija-20-25-tukstosi-cilveku.a359252/

[2] https://www.diena.lv/raksts/viedokli/latvija/premjers-uzskata-ka-pirms-9.maija-bija-plasak-jaskaidro-sabiedribai-par-pulcesanas-ierobezojumiem-14241200

[3] https://www.lsm.lv/raksts/zinas/latvija/rigas-pasvaldibas-policija-vardarbiba-gimene-pieaug.a358897/

[4] https://www.skds.lv