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 9th May in the timespan of 15 hours around 20 000 people gathered to commemorate this Remembrance Day.  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. 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%. 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. 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.
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.
*This article has been made in cooperation with China-CEE institute and is the intelectual property of China-CEE institute