When Covid vaccines began in December 2020, political leaders in Lithuania emphasized that vaccination was voluntary.
As vaccination rates increased in spring 2021 and development began on the Covid Pass, mainstream political views changed. Now, the consensus among all major politicians is that unvaccinated people should not have equal rights.
Here are some representative quotes said by our leaders in the last two months:
- “People who do not get vaccinated are a threat to our health, to the country’s economy, to business, and to human life.”
- “I urge you to avoid associating with the unvaccinated, because associating with the deliberately unvaccinated is the same as getting into a car with a drunk driver.”
- “If you don’t get vaccinated, then go prepare your grave.“
- “The Opportunity Pass will allow us to live as freely as can be possible during a global pandemic… The Opportunity Pass is the only way to not shut down our economy and to let people enjoy their favorite restaurants, cafes, and shops.”
- “To not vaccinate yourself means that you will spread it, because anyone who does not vaccinate is a potential spreader. Not vaccinating yourself, and encouraging others to not vaccinate, are not yet crimes. We are – still – gentle and polite. But therefore, we suffer because we do not stop the unvaccinated with the force of law and order. However, it can be done. We are at war. Let us reflect among ourselves and the coalition government on whether the state is really doing everything it can to fight the virus that is the anti-vaxxers.”
In a publicity move, the Economics Minister (left-most in picture below) visited cafes and bars to promote the Opportunity Pass. She wrote on her Facebook page:
- “With 634 cases per day, it was impossible to imagine recently we could have ‘normal life’. Yet today, we can enjoy the autumn and return to many of our activities without any restrictions… Our goal is that vaccines and the Opportunity Pass will help keep businesses open and operating. I am very pleased that businesses are helping us in this difficult hour.”
Increasing Restrictions. Re-Vaccination.
The number of positive test results in Lithuania has risen sharply in the last month.
The pattern this year is the same as 2020: the number of new positive tests reached a low with the peak of summer heat in early July, then started rising as the weather became colder in late July and August.
Hospitalizations and deaths are rising in a similar pattern.
Government statistics show that from August 27 to September 15, 172 people died of Covid. Of them, 35, or 20%, were fully vaccinated. The other 80% were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated; the data does not show the breakdown.
To fight the rising numbers, officials launched booster injections. Under the “re-vaccination program“, people will get a third injection of Pfizer or Moderna six months after their last injection, starting with seniors and then progressing to the entire population.
As they roll out the re-vaccination injections, leaders have discussed further measures in the last week:
- The President: “Compulsory, or forced, vaccination is the sole possibility if we want a smooth process to face the challenge of the burden imposed by the Delta variant“.
- The Prime Minister: “Cases are rising. Large numbers of people chose not to be vaccinated, which is why they died from this disease. The government gave people time to get vaccinated. But the pace of vaccination slowed down. Therefore, we had to impose restrictions unfortunately. These restrictions are a quarantine of the unvaccinated… Additional restrictions may be needed, but for now I hope to avoid this.“
- The Vice-Minister for Health: “We are likely to start the fourth and fifth booster shots in several months.“
To further encourage vaccination, our government is drafting a law to deny sickness benefits to people who have not been vaccinated against Covid and become sick from the virus. Currently, workers pay a mandatory health insurance fee. This funds a sickness benefit program that pays 62% of salary if a worker becomes seriously ill or incapacitated. But there are several limited exceptions: a person receives nothing if the sickness is the result of alcohol or drug abuse, fraud, or criminal activity. The new law will add refusal to get Covid-vaccinated as another reason for an ill person to not receive benefits.
Attempts to Circumvent the Pass
Compliance is extremely high. The government reported that 90% of eligible citizens – 1.5 million people – have a valid Covid Pass as of September 17.
But some people try to find alternatives.
Because of long queues of people waiting to enter stores, guards only infrequently verify that a person’s ID matches the Covid Pass. News reports indicate that non-Pass holders have taken advantage of this by borrowing the QR codes of other people in order to illegally gain entrance to stores.
For example, on September 15, a 49-year old man tried to enter a supermarket in the capital city of Vilnius. The guard at the entrance became suspicious because the name on the scanned QR code was Lithuanian, but (as reported by police) the man was an “Asian-looking” foreigner who did not speak the language. Police were called. The man said he is a construction worker and had wanted to buy food in the morning, so he had surreptitiously photographed the QR code of his boss at the construction site. The man was fined 5,000 eur. The police issued a press release (picture below).
Other reports describe people who bribe doctors to fake the vaccination – pouring the vaccine into the garbage – for 250-500 eur. The government treats all these cases as crimes and is investigating.
In our country, opinion polls show that 70-80% of people support vaccine mandates and the exclusion of unvaccinated people from various aspects of society.
There is no unified opposition to restrictions.
The only socially acceptable opposition is to nitpick about the details of each particular regulation. That’s led to some minor loosening of rules, e.g. giving university students an extra few weeks to get vaccinated.
But in general, there isn’t much mainstream condemnation of the entire Covid Pass regime as a fundamental violation of human rights. Voices of principled opposition are rarely featured in our country’s media. Opposition is usually ignored by the mainstream, and when mentioned, those who oppose mandates are caricatured by both the government and the media as far-right, anti-LGBT, conspiracy theorists, and neo-Nazis.
To be continued…