Italians in Latvia: “Get vaccinated. We thought it was over, but we are again in lockdown”

“It is disheartening to see the rest of the world reopen, while the situation here is so serious. Being forced to give up everyday life, go to restaurants, go to university, go out with friends … I just hope it lasts as short as possible ”. The hard lockdown is back in Latvia. All non-essential economic activities, including shops, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, gyms and swimming pools, will be closed for one month until November 15. In addition to schools, where distance learning will be carried out. Most of the workforce will have to exercise remotely. Sports, entertainment and cultural events will be canceled. There will be a night curfew, in effect from 8pm to 5am. You will not be able to leave the house, except for proven urgent reasons. The country recorded a Covid-19 incidence which reached 1266 cases per hundred thousand inhabitants in fourteen days: among the highest in the world. The data provided by Our World in Data points the finger at the vaccination campaign: here less than half of the population received both injections, just over 50% received at least one dose.

Sofia and Fabrizio experience Latvia from two different points of view. Both Italians, she has lived in Riga for four years and is the head of ASIR, the Italian Student Association in Riga. He, a 44-year-old tour guide, has moved to the Baltic countries for 20 years, commutes between Lithuania, where he lives, and Latvia, where he goes for work. Access is now denied him, while he records the cancellations of tourists’ bookings for trips planned in the coming days, a further blow to his agency which in the pandemic year reported a loss of 95%, with a consequent reduction in staff: “We are two left, me and the accountant, who takes a ridiculous salary. If they decide to extend the lockdown, which I fear, it would literally be the end for tourism professionals ”.

Sofia

The shopping line in the mall supermarket and a closed shop with the lockdown date on it

This lockdown took them by surprise, none of them expected it. The vaccine seemed like a promise: they will not be able to close the country, it would also be a wrong against those who underwent the administration. But things did not go as planned, due to a failed vaccination campaign denounced by the same government, which in barring the population back into their apartments, did mea culpa. “I apologize to those who have already been vaccinated, but the restrictions will apply to everyone”, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told reporters, “There are still too many unvaccinated people who catch Covid and die in hospital”. Head sprinkled with ashes also for the Latvian Minister of Health Daniels Pavuts: “We, the government and the whole society have not been able to achieve sufficient vaccination coverage. So we have to ask you to suspend your lives for a few weeks to avoid the worst possible scenario ”.

The worst scenario, the one to be avoided, is the collapse of health facilities, which according to the Ministry of Health could take place at the end of October if the current trend of cases remains unchanged. “Blockade for Latvia means blockade for many”, Fabrizio told Huffpost, “The Baltic countries are very interconnected, the closure of one has consequences for the neighboring ones. Economic activities stop ”. As a tour guide, he is already thinking of Christmas, the season that begins here after All Saints’ Day, with the opening of markets that attract people from all over the world. This year, inevitably, the celebrations will be postponed: “Riga was called the Paris of the North, it offered a lot of entertainment, it was very lively. Now it is sad to see it so desolate, the streets are empty again ”.

Latvia, in March 2020, was among the first countries to arm itself against covid, despite a smaller number of cases than the rest of the world. “These restrictions have been extremely effective because we’ve never had a real first wave,” explains Sofia, “And this is where the beginning of the end was. The country, which escaped the covid, has begun to reopen its doors, without maintaining particular restrictions, and a certain skepticism has been created towards the pandemic in general ”. In October 2020, the infections started again here too, the lockdown was reintroduced until May: “As the cases went down, they reopened everything without particular restrictions during the summer period: the discos were open, people went to the cinema without a mask” . Then the virus returned and the number of vaccinated people was not sufficient to counter its advance.

Parks and deserted streets a

Sofia

Parks and deserted streets in Riga

The causes of this vaccination debacle are different, they explain. “The population most at risk did not join as desired. Consequently, the government decided not to follow a precise tactic in administering the doses, but preferred to vaccinate as many people as possible: we young people were vaccinated much earlier than our peers in Italy. But it was precisely not possible to guarantee sufficient immunity coverage for the most fragile categories, ”says Sofia. For Fabrizio, a high percentage of renunciations is also recorded among the Russian-speaking population: “They wanted to make Sputnick, the Russian vaccine, but it is not recognized by European bodies”. Not only that: the delay in the delivery of vaccines has created problems in the country. AstraZeneca was initially the only one available and skepticism towards it extended to that of all preparations, favored by misinformation and lack of trust in the government.

News of the new lockdown was not well received. In recent weeks there have been demonstrations against the vaccination certificate and against the rules that allowed unvaccinated people to use only essential goods. But the Green Pass seems to be the most direct way out and we are considering whether to introduce the obligation to work starting from 15 November. “I don’t know if the case of Latvia can be considered a warning to other countries, but what I feel like saying is: get vaccinated. We thought the worst was over ”.

Desert streets and mall a

Sofia

Streets and deserted mall in Riga

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