Latvian President: Don't listen to populists on coronavirus

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu visits Latvia.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu visits Latvia. Source: Ilmars Znotinš/Chancery of the President of Latvia

Latvian President Egils Levits took the unusual step on Sunday, of releasing a public address urging the public to do the right thing to help put the brakes on an increasingly serious epidemiological situation in the country, the English-language arm of public broadcaster LSM reports.

In particular, President Levits appealed to rationality and called for the rejection of medically unsound populism, which he says threatens to accelerate the spread of the coronavirus and increase the number of cases and deaths, LSM says.

"Several European countries have already acknowledged that the spread of the pandemic has gone out of control; therefore, we presently have no room for chaotic actions or overconfidence," he said adding that actions must be rational.

However, without directly criticizing government actions thus far, Levits also made it clear he expects a plan for the future: "Based on expert advice, not only on what to do today, but also what safety measures will be expected if the pandemic develops in one direction or another.

"Second, I expect an accurate conversation with the public. We need to know not only what we can and cannot do, but also why specific measures are necessary and proportionate and why others that seem logical are not necessary," Levits urged, before signing off with another rallying cry.

Latvia had a COVID-19 rate in single figures per 100,000 just a few weeks ago, and far lower than Estonia's, prompting the country to close entry to visitors from its northern neighbor. However, the situation has changed since then, with the 14-day rate as of Friday standing at over 80 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with Estonia's 37.9.

The country has somewhat stricter regulations than Estonia, including the mandatory wearing of face-masks on public transport and other public locations.

Lithuania similarly has seen its rate soar, to nearly 100 per 100,000 at present. This weekend's second-stage general election run-off has been seen by many as something of a vote of no-confidence in outgoing prime minister Saulius Skvernelis' handling of the pandemic.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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