President of Latvia
By opening the internal borders, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have restored the ‘little Schengen’ in Europe. Starting today, the six million inhabitants of Baltic countries will be able to freely move across the internal borders between countries as long as they comply with virus containment restrictions. Latvia needs it as Lithuania and Estonia are our strategic trade partners.
Baltic region stands out as the least affected region in Europe. Latvia and other Baltic countries imposed restrictions early on and that is how we evaded a massive spreading of virus. Awareness and discipline among people, as well as smart government policies, allowed us to contain the spread of the virus and keep it at a low level.
Europe and the rest of the world has begun to relax restrictions and map the economic recovery. However, there are stark differences between countries and their future policies. While most of Europe and the world is under heavy spread of pandemic with hundreds of thousands of new infections and deaths recorded each day, some countries like Latvia are able to control the spread of virus with significant success.
Although cautiously, Latvian government decided to relax the restrictions some days ago. On some occasions, pandemic has receded so quickly that some countries have decided to abandon restrictions altogether. But it is absolutely clear that because Latvia imposed rigorous restrictions and people more or less abided by them, we are better off in terms of the virus outbreak.
We should not forget that virus is still around. Easing of measures will mean more contact between people and that increases the likelihood of further surge of virus. There is no doubt about that.
To avoid rapid resurgence of virus, or at least make it less rapid, we need people to be responsible and comply with restrictions as closely as possible, especially when it comes to social distancing and keeping 2 metres away from each other. Moreover, personal responsibility is important, but people should also caution others who are less careful about social distancing. We need to keep the virus at bay until vaccine is available.
Relaxing of restrictions is a ‘vote of confidence’ in our people’s ability to self-discipline and restrain. It is a credit of trust. If society fails, and infection goes back to pandemic again, we will have to lock down again. Please be mindful that recklessness and carelessness can have a heavy toll on us. There are people’s lives at stake. That is too much of a gamble.
But we can rest assured. What we have seen so far is that we are able to rely on each other when it comes to taking responsibility for our society. We are responsible and that allows us to start thinking about swifter economic recovery already now.
That is why the Latvian government must gather all its wits and foresight. We cannot just consume or spend the funding earmarked for crisis recovery. Government must invest these funds into Latvian economy and society – into better living after the crisis. These investments must yield sufficient returns. Monies made available must go into the promising areas, fields and companies. Restructuring and transformation must be all about upskilling and reskilling. Social assistance must be provided to those who really need it.
So, to overcome the crisis, we need policies that go beyond restoring the ‘business as usual’ we had before the pandemic. We need change. Structural reforms in the economy is what we need most. Tax reform, legal reform, educational reform, science reform. To make the leap, we will, of course, have to boost healthcare, and culture, which is one of the main components of quality of life.
Economic recovery policies have to be powerful and support structural change. Our people look forward to governments. They expect government to come up with all-round policies as soon as possible.
We, the people of the Baltic, have restored free movement in our area. Our ‘little Schengen’ is the first area in Europe where internal borders that were closed two months ago are being reopened. That is what Europe does best. That is how member states work together. We hope that other neighbouring countries will follow the suite and other regions of Europe will reopen their internal borders soon.
Our economic recovery will be swifter because Latvia was tremendously disciplined in containing the pandemic. With Baltic countries championing the recovery of Europe, we will see stronger Europe in no time.
Stay strong everybody!