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19 Oct, 2021 15:50

Latvia orders lockdown as PM decries low Covid-19 vaccine uptake and far-right MP blames Russian ‘colonists’ reluctant to get jab

Latvia orders lockdown as PM decries low Covid-19 vaccine uptake and far-right MP blames Russian ‘colonists’ reluctant to get jab

Latvia has ordered its citizens to stay at home, and shuttered shops and businesses in the hope of slowing a spike in deaths, after warnings that the healthcare system is struggling to cope with the increase in coronavirus cases.

In a statement on Monday, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said, “Our healthcare system is in danger [and] the only way out of this crisis is to get vaccinated.” Non-essential shops, restaurants, schools, and entertainment venues will be closed, and those businesses that are allowed to remain open will be subject to a curfew between 8pm and 5am for around a month.

“I have to apologize to those already vaccinated,” Karins said. Only around 54% of Latvian adults have currently been fully immunized, which is significantly below the EU average of 74%. Riga is now reporting the second-highest number of cases per capita of all member states.

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Janis Iesalnieks, an MP from the far-right National Alliance Party, risked courting controversy by laying the blame for the rise in deaths at the door of the country’s large Russian ethnic minority, however. “Latvian children will no longer be able to study and play sports because the colonists who arrived in Soviet times are in no hurry to get vaccinated and are now overloading hospitals,” he claimed. “It’s so unfair.”

In March, the Council of Europe warned that Riga was infringing on the rights of ethnic Russians by seeking to marginalize their language within the country. “Society in Latvia continues to struggle with the consequences of past divisions,” it said in a report, with “the Latvian majority and the Russian minority holding different geopolitical viewpoints and cultural identities. Persons belonging to each of these groups have significantly different perceptions of history and of the state in which they would wish to live. Attempts to create a cohesive society based on civic identity have not advanced significantly in recent years.”

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At the same time, the group argued that “cases of inflammatory statements by public figures have not led to the authorities taking sufficient action, creating an impression of impunity and ambivalence, thus affecting negatively the inter-ethnic climate.”

Latvia has recorded more than 187,000 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic in March last year, and at least 2,897 of its citizens are thought to have died from the virus.

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