No other path for the government: must show more than just the once promised plan

Ingrida Šimonytė
Ingrida Šimonytė DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The epidemiological situation is worsening in Lithuania – the number of infections per 100 thousand capita within 14 days had fallen down to 220 but is back over 300 once again and Minister of Healthcare Arūnas Dulkys is cautioning that this indicator could rise to 400-500 in the next few weeks, wrote in its editorial.

In such a case, further reductions in restrictions would be delayed and one would be just left hoping that the government will at least not expand restrictions again. Prior to Easter, control of movement between municipalities was reinforced, the quarantine expanded. It appears that the government finds itself in something of a trap where there is no good solution.

Naturally, former Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis once again berated the government’s quarantine measures during an interview with Lietuvos Rytas – the restrictions have exhausted the people and there’s no light to be seen at the end of the tunnel that things will soon get better.

S. Skvernelis did not miss the opportunity to mock how, having criticised him regarding restrictions during the Seimas elections, the current ruling bloc can’t come up with anything else themselves now and are walking down their predecessors’ path. While they boasted of a 130-point plan, they did not present any real pandemic management scenario.

The former prime minister also highlighted that this government should find it easier to manage if for no other reason than how a quarter of the country’s people have already been vaccinated or have recovered from the coronavirus and are immune.

There’s truth to this. Furthermore, it would be odd if the opposition leader were to praise Prime Minister I. Šimonytė, who took over after him, especially given that the current ruling bloc continues to upbraid the previous government, talking about just how unbearable the burden it is that they inherited.

One could say that I. Šimonytė is now facing criticism for the same things that S. Skvernelis was. After a closer look, both governments have actually been using fairly similar strategies and tactics for combatting the pandemic.

On the other hand, one can also agree with analysts who say that the government has to choose between bad and worse.

Political scientist Š. Liekis pointed out how the public met with hostility the government’s decision to extend the quarantine and reinforce mobility restrictions over the Easter celebrations.

The government will apparently lose some popularity over this; popularity, which is already not at a peak anyway. However, the choice was to either loosen the restrictions and risk that the pandemic will rampage to the point that everything except grocery stores will have to be shut again or continue the quarantine with stricter mobility restrictions and, of course, anger the people in doing this.

Even politicians constantly thinking about their popularity ratings, it is probably better to opt to anger the public during the holidays than being crucified for a long time over failing to contain the pandemic, especially if its wave could take with it numerous lives.

It will depend on the cabinet’s insightfulness, whether its decisions do not go too far, whether they are able to maintain a balance between caring for public safety and the courage to not excessively restrict the people where it isn’t inevitable and doesn’t cause lethal consequences. In this respect, it is premature to score the government.

Without a doubt, the public is exhausted by the quarantine and so, the psychological health of the people will be greatly influenced by the ruling bloc’s ability to convince the people that the restrictions are needed for themselves, not the government.

How are they managing to do so? Clearly not always and sometimes failures occur over the same things. How much uproar was incited just by the news that a married couple would not be able to attend one of the couple’s relatives’ funeral in a different municipality.

When the government’s stupidity and absurd decision making had been amply mocked on social media, the police declared that it would not force people travelling to funerals to turn back and go home, promising to adhere to common sense criteria.

However, wisdom lies in acting based on common sense without waiting to be chewed out for stupidity.

People find the government’s decisions lacking in logic over a number of cases. For example, many struggle to comprehend why there are no restrictions on travelling to the Maldives, but you aren’t allowed to visit your parents in a neighbouring municipality.

Such examples of unsuccessful communication with the public are becoming increasingly significant due to the length and exhausting quarantine, more so than they would under normal living conditions. This provokes people to disregard the government’s restrictions and then these measures become ineffective.

Overall, Lithuanian society displayed a modicum of patience during the quarantine – cases like that in France, where youth riots occurred due to outrage over restrictions, did not occur.

Nevertheless, according to psychologist P. Skruibis, some people will not adhere to the restrictions if they linger and so, the government should opt for only the most effective restrictions, seek ways to allow some activities while adopting effective security measures.

By the way, there is finally talk of all stores being opened.

A sense of solidarity is also important to the public. A bad example is how numerous elderly people refused AstraZeneca vaccination out of fear of dangerous side effects from the vaccine. Then, youths, who face less danger due to the coronavirus, also say – why should we restrict ourselves despite being unafraid of being infected, while our elders refuse vaccination?

It is now essential for the government to avoid mistakes in terms of making poorly thought out and unjustified decisions and every cautious step in managing the pandemic must be well explained to the people so that they would believe – we must do this for our own safety.
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