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Latvia: Legal Response to Covid-19

Latvia [lv]

Solvita Olsena, Mārtiņš Birģelis, Laura Kadile

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved.date: 30 June 2022

General editors: Prof. Jeff King; Prof. Octavio Ferraz
Area editors: Prof. Tendayi Achiume; Prof. Alan Bogg; Dr. Natalie Byrom; Prof. Cathryn Costello; Prof. Nicola Countouris; Prof. Colleen Flood; Prof. Eva Pils; Prof. Nico Steytler; Dr. Silvia Suteu; Dr. Bryan Thomas; Dr. Michael Veale; Dr. Pedro A. Villarreal


© The several contributors 2021. Some rights reserved. This is an open access publication, available online and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0), a copy of which is available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Enquiries concerning use outside the scope of the licence terms should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press.

Preferred Citation: S Olsena, M Birģelis, and L Kadile, ‘Latvia: Legal Response to Covid-19’, in Jeff King and Octávio LM Ferraz et al (eds), The Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to Covid-19 (OUP 2021). doi: 10.1093/law-occ19/e31.013.31

Except where the text indicates the contrary, the law is as it stood on: 24 May 2021

Latvia was fast, strict, and successful in its response at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of a global Covid-19 pandemic, the Cabinet of Ministers declared an emergency situation on 12 March 2020. Within two weeks, substantial restrictions limiting public events, travel, the functioning of state institutions, schools, shopping, health care, churches, etc were put in place. This led to a low Covid-19 incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants (14-day care notification rate per 100,000 inhabitants): on 1 April 2020 this rate was 19.6, on 1 May 2020 it was 9.8, and on 1 June 2020 it was 3.1 The total number of deaths during that period was 25. The first emergency situation ended on 9 June 2020. During Summer restrictions were relaxed, with a low Covid-19 incidence. Latvia’s approach to the pandemic was seen as a success. The cases started to rise in October 2020 from 20 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on 1 October 2020 to 140 on 1 November 2020. The Cabinet declared a second emergency situation on 6 November 2020 and put in place substantial restrictions. Several times, stricter measures were added. Curfew orders were issued in the New Year and the following weekends, public gatherings were banned, and daily routines limited. Despite this, the number of cases skyrocketed during December 2020, reaching its peak on 10 January 2021 when the incidence rate reached 694 per 100,000 inhabitants, or 49,568 cases in total. This led to an extremely high number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients and a high death toll (810 by 10 January 2021). The health care system and medical professionals were overwhelmed. The decrease in case numbers during February and March 2021, despite strict public health measures in place, was slow, reaching 497 per 100,000 inhabitants on 1 March 2021 and 372 on 1 April 2021. The second emergency situation ended on 6 April 2021, when there was still a quite high incidence rate (338). Up to 1 May 2021, the total number of cases in Latvia was 119,360 infections, and 2,139 deaths.

I.  Constitutional Framework

1.  The constitutional framework of the Republic of Latvia is provided by the Constitution (Satversme) adopted on 15 February 1922.2 When Latvia declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it reverted to the Satversme of 1922. Latvia is a parliamentary Republic and democratic power is balanced between the unicameral Parliament (Saeima), the Head of state (the President of the state), the executive (the Cabinet), and the court system. The directly elected Saeima elects the President. The President of the state of Latvia represents the state in international relations and functions as a political constitutional body of the state which is neutral in terms of political parties and ensures that a broader range of interests of the whole society is considered in the decision-making process.

2.  The highest executive power of Latvia lies with the Cabinet, which is formed by a person entrusted by the President. The Prime Ministerial candidate forms the rest of the Cabinet. When the Cabinet has been formed, the Saeima holds a vote of confidence. If the vote is positive, the person who has been entrusted to form the Cabinet becomes the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister may later dismiss any minister from the office and invite another person to take their place, however, a new minister needs to enjoy the support from the Saeima by passing the vote of confidence. The current Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš exercised such power on 7 January 2021 by dismissing the Minister of Health at that time, Ilze Viņķele,3 due to her delay in presenting the required vaccination plan. State institutions are subject to the authority of the Cabinet, and the Cabinet and individual ministers may issue instructions binding on the subordinate institutions. The Cabinet has the right of legislative initiative and may submit draft laws to the Saeima. The Cabinet may also issue binding regulations when such a right is stipulated in a particular law or if the particular matter has not been regulated by law. Article 59 of the Satversme establishes the subordination and accountability of the Cabinet before the Saeima.

3.  Latvia is a unitary state. Articles 1 and 101 of the Constitution comprise, inter alia, the principle of local government, which is the basis for the institutional existence and functional operation of a local government.4 A local government is a local administration, which—through its body of representatives elected by citizens (council) and institutions established by it—ensures the performance of the functions prescribed by law, as well as the performance of tasks assigned by Cabinet, observing the interests of the state and the residents of the relevant administrative territory. All public institutions, and local governments among them, may act only in compliance with the principle of the rule of law, within their competence defined by law. The competence of local governments is defined by the Law on Local Governments.5 Autonomous functions of local governments among others are as follows: to provide for the education of residents; to ensure access to health care, as well as to promote a healthy lifestyle of residents; to ensure social assistance (social care) for residents; and to organise a public transport service. The interaction between the state and local governments has been regarded as poor as all the main decisions regarding the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic were taken by the Cabinet and the relevant ministries with minimal involvement of local governments.6 However, local governments were especially involved in measures such as supervising compliance with the isolation and quarantine rules, as well as, to the extent possible, providing a place for self-isolation; providing an allowance in a crisis situation; and distributing personal protective equipment and medical devices.

4.  The response to the pandemic has not changed the basic constitutional structure of the state. However, it has created tensions regarding the division of powers between the executive and the legislative branches, which have led to discussions about the restoration of a modified version of Article 81 of the Satversme.7 It historically provided the Cabinet, during the time between sessions of the Saeima, with the right to issue regulations that had the force of law,8 yet it has been removed from the Constitution more than a decade ago as such powers were abused and exercised without the necessary justification. Currently, no legislative proposal on restoring Article 81 of the Satversme has been submitted to the parliament nor any official work on such amendment is taking place, however, the President has publicly called for providing more flexibility to the Cabinet.9

II.  Applicable Legal Framework

A.  Constitutional and international law

5.  The Satversme directly refers only to a ‘state of exception’ (izņēmuma stāvoklis) (Article 62) which is linked to military threats or insurrections. However, in situations where the state is confronted with disasters endangering, inter alia, the health and life of individuals, the Cabinet is entitled to declare an ‘emergency situation’ (ārkārtējais stāvoklis) in accordance with the 2013 Law on Emergency Situation and State of Exception. The emergency situation is a special legal regime, during which the Cabinet has the right to restrict the rights and freedoms of state administration and local government authorities, natural persons, and legal persons, as well as to impose additional duties on them.10 It was the ‘emergency situation’ that was declared in Latvia to combat Covid-19 not the ‘state of exception’. Even though the general legal framework is somewhat similar in both of these legal situations, and there have been previous attempts to amend the Satversme to recognize other possible states of emergency,11 only the state of exception has its roots directly in the Satversme. As the emergency situation in Latvia is a statutory legal condition it will be further discussed in Part II.B below.

6.  Latvia is a member of the European Union (EU) and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), therefore its actions and legislation have to comply with the relevant international standards. Latvia has a monist legal order with regards to its international legal obligations. Article 89 of the Satversme demands that the interpretation of fundamental rights is done in compliance with norms of international law. The Satversme itself, essentially, is interpreted in compliance with the norms of the ECHR and of other international documents.

7.  On 16 March 2020, the Permanent Representation of Latvia to the Council of Europe (CoE) transmitted a Note Verbale to the Secretary General of the CoE, formally notifying that Latvia was exercising the right of derogation from its obligations under the ECHR in the entire territory of Latvia. This included a derogation from certain obligations of Latvia under Articles 8 and 11 of the ECHR, Article 2 of Protocol to the ECHR, and Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the ECHR.12 These derogations were made because during the emergency situation individual assessment of restrictions would not be possible and that was considered to be contrary to the requirements of the ECHR.13 Later, on 14 May, Latvia withdrew its derogation from Article 11 of the ECHR,14 on 2 June it withdrew its derogation from Article 2 of Protocol to the ECHR,15 and on 10 June the remaining derogations from Article 8 of the ECHR and Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the ECHR were withdrawn.16 However, the derogation from Article 11 of the ECHR was then again applied on 30 December 2020.17 Similarly, Latvia formally derogated from certain obligations under Articles 12, 17, and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.18

8.  National authorities did not directly quote standards developed by the WHO in their legislative and regulatory acts, with the exception of Cabinet Order Number 103 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (‘Cabinet Order Number 103’) which allowed the facilitation of the acquisition of personal protective equipment and medical devices which are manufactured in accordance with the technical specifications recognized by the WHO.19 There are references, however, to the WHO in the Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (‘CDC’) recommendations on various Covid-19 related issues,20 for instance, on the proper use of face masks and the disinfection of surfaces and common areas.

B.  Statutory provisions

9.  As noted in Part II.A above, when the emergency situation was declared on 12 March 2020 to combat Covid-19, the 2013 Law on Emergency Situation and State of Exception was applied.21 An emergency situation can be declared for a definite time period that does not exceed three months.22 If necessary, the Cabinet then has a right to extend, on its own prerogative, this period for up to three months.23 The Cabinet is obliged to repeal the decision once the threat has been prevented or overcome.24 In declaring an emergency situation, the law also allows the Cabinet to stipulate movement and gathering restrictions, special procedures for access to goods and services, and other measures necessary in the particular emergency situation.25

10.  The Cabinet is obligated to notify its decision on an emergency situation or amendments to that decision—for instance, if additional restrictions of rights are necessary or if it is necessary to extend the declared emergency situation—to the Presidium of the Saeima—a supervisory body that is elected by the Saeima and consists of five Members of Parliament (MPs): the Speaker, two Deputy Speakers, the Secretary, and the Deputy Secretary—within 24 hours of taking such decision.26 The Presidium of the Saeima must include the decision of the Cabinet in the agenda of the Saeima meeting without delay.27 If in examining the decision taken by the Cabinet, the Saeima rejects it, the relevant decision of the Cabinet is repealed and the measures introduced according to such decision are revoked.28 So far, the Saeima has approved all the decisions, including the proposed restrictions, made by the Cabinet regarding the pandemic.

11.  On 12 March 2020, the Cabinet adopted Cabinet Order Number 103, under which the emergency situation was declared effective as of 12 March 2020 throughout the national territory. It remained effective until 14 April 2020 and was later extended until 9 June 2020, restricting the spread of Covid-19.29 In addition, on 23 March 2020, after meeting with the Chairperson of the Saeima, Prime Minister, President of the Constitutional Court, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the President issued a non-binding notification clarifying the principles of state activities to manage the emergency situation.30

12.  Until the Covid-19 pandemic, the law allowed only one extension of the emergency situation, however on 3 April 2020, the Saeima, on the initiative of political opposition members, amended the law unanimously to allow for an unlimited number of extensions.31 It was considered that the possibility of only one extension might not be sufficient in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic. From 9 November 2020, a new emergency situation was declared in Latvia by Cabinet Order Number 655 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (‘Cabinet Order Number 655’) in order to control the spread of Covid-19, in view of the epidemiological assessments of increasing risks.32 The emergency situation was extended three times and lasted until 6 April 2021.

13.  The declaration of an emergency situation did not entail the suspension of the operation of the Saeima or the courts’ system. Among the measures adopted by the Cabinet, in-class learning at schools was suspended, access by third persons to hospitals, social care institutions, and places of detention were restricted, all public events, meetings, and gatherings were cancelled and prohibited, and the movement of persons was restricted (see Part IV below).

14.  Other legislation relied upon included the 2013 Law on Emergency Situation and State of Exception, 2016 Civil Protection and Disaster Management Law, which determines the competence of the system of civil protection and disaster management subjects,33 and the 1997 Epidemiological Safety Law, which authorizes the Cabinet to determine epidemiological safety measures to limit the spread of individual infectious diseases.34 All three said statutory acts complement each other and were used as a basis to support the decision to declare the emergency situation. Arguably the latter was relied on more as it authorized the Cabinet to issue more detailed Covid-19 related restrictions.

15.  In addition, new general laws were adopted to deal with the pandemic. First, the draft Law on Measures for the Prevention and Suppression of Threat to the State and its Consequences due to the Spread of Covid-19’ was introduced to the Saeima on 20 March 2020 and adopted on the same day.35 It was recognized as urgent, which means that it got considered in only two readings instead of three.36 The purpose of the law was to determine measures for the prevention and suppression of threats to the state, special support mechanisms, as well as expenditures which are directly related to the containment of the spread of Covid-19. Second, the draft Law on the Operation of State Authorities During the Emergency Situation Related to the Spread of Covid-19 was introduced to the Saeima on 1 April 2020, recognized as urgent, and was adopted after two readings (on 2 and 3 April 2020), on 3 April 2020.37 The purpose of this law was to ensure continuous and efficient operation of state authorities during the emergency situation declared by the state in relation to the spread of Covid-19. It prescribed fundamental principles of the operation of state authorities, as well as specific rights and obligations of state authorities and private individuals with regards to the prevention and suppression of a threat to the state related to the spread of Covid-19. Both of these laws were initially designed for the period of the emergency situation, and were therefore later replaced by two new laws in June 2020.

16.  On 5 June 2020, with the aim of restoring the general legal order and specifying epidemiological safety measures after the end of the emergency situation, the Law on the Management of the Spread of Covid-19 Infection (‘Law on Covid-19 Management’) was adopted by the Saeima.38 The draft law was introduced to the Saeima on 29 May 2020, recognized as urgent, and discussed in two plenary sessions—the first reading took place on 4 June 2020 and the final reading on 5 June 2020.39 The first emergency situation in Latvia ended on 9 June 2020 and said law came into force the following day (10 June 2020). The law includes provisions introduced during the emergency situation and grants the Cabinet the power to introduce special requirements and restrictions in case of Covid-19 infections in circumstances including gatherings, cultural and religious activities, entertainment, sports, carriage of passengers, educational processes, provision of health services, etc (see further Part IV below). It does not include any sunset clauses and therefore remains in force indefinitely until the Saeima takes legislative action to abolish the law. However, restrictions on the rights of private individuals can be imposed only as long as such necessity can be justified by the spread of Covid-19 infections, and the risks cannot be effectively eliminated by applying the legal means specified under the general legal procedures.40

17.  Similarly, on 5 June 2020, with the aim of improving the economic situation of society and to promote the stability of the national economy, an additional law—the Law on the Suppression of Consequences of the Spread of Covid-19 Infection (‘Law on Covid-19 Suppression’)—was adopted by the Saeima and came in to force on 10 June 2020.41 The law provides a set of measures for the suppression of consequences of the spread of Covid-19 infection and special support mechanisms and expenditures directly related to the containment of the spread of Covid-19. Also, this draft law was introduced to the Saeima on 29 May 2020 and had an identical adoption process as the Law on Covid-19 Management—being recognized as urgent with readings on 4 and 5 June 2020. 42 The law as such does not have a sunset clause, however, it is constantly amended depending on the epidemiological situation in Latvia. Once the law loses its utility, the Saeima will have to adopt a new law that abolishes the current one.

18.  The statute that received the most criticism from the opposition parties was the Law on Covid-19 Management, as it allowed the Cabinet to restrict the rights of individuals and authorized the Minister of Finance to borrow on behalf of the state, as well as to increase the state debt.43 The majority of parliamentarians, however, considered these functions essential to effectively combat Covid-19 and therefore rejected the proposals which intended to remove the relevant provisions from the law.

C.  Executive rule-making powers

19.  Executive rule-making powers have played a preponderant role in the response to the Covid-19 crisis. These powers are manifested by Cabinet orders and regulations of the Cabinet. Cabinet Order Number 103 and Cabinet Order Number 655 included restrictions on free movement of individuals, private events and gatherings, the operation of cultural, exhibition, and religious sites, beauty treatment, and retail trade services. In addition, Cabinet Order Number 103 further authorized the Minister of Health to restrict access to healthcare services, although that was later criticized for being contrary to the principle of legality.44 Additionally, the Law on Covid-19 Management granted the Cabinet the power to issue a variety of restrictions, including restrictions on public gatherings, services provided by public persons and private individuals, passengers and vehicle drivers, health care services, and other procedures such as the procedures for the organization of educational process and other events, procedures as to how certain state funds are allocated, and the functioning of social services.45 Many of said restrictions are enacted in Cabinet Regulation Number 360 Epidemiological Safety Measures for the Containment of the Spread of Covid-19 Infection (‘Cabinet Regulation Number 360’), which consolidates several measures and has thus been frequently amended (67 times until 23 September 2021) in accordance with changes in the pandemic situation.46

20.  While regulations of the Cabinet are external regulatory enactments, therefore are legally binding to an abstract scope of persons and regulate legal relations between the subject of public rights on the one hand and an individual or other legal subjects on the other,47 orders of the Cabinet are individual legal acts which generally do not create new legal norms but apply the legal norms already existing in other regulatory enactments to concrete circumstances. Cabinet Order Number 103 and Number 655 however include a variety of legal acts:48 internal acts, general administrative acts—a general administrative act embodies a regulatory enactment or a legal norm in concrete circumstances—49and even new legal norms.50 Regulations and Cabinet orders are subject to certain constitutional limitations—they cannot conflict with higher norms, such as primary legislation and the Satversme. Due to the legality principle, Cabinet regulations can only supplement or specify coercive measures but not create new ones unless authorized to do so by a delegating parliamentary act that also specifies the content, purpose, and scope of such action. Cabinet regulations are issued by the Cabinet and have the function of implementing the abstract provisions of a parliamentary law at a more operative level, while Cabinet orders generally apply legal norms to concrete circumstances or provide restrictions when is authorized by law.

21.  Cabinet orders regarding the emergency situation and provisions therein are in force only as long as there is an emergency situation in the country. Once the emergency situation ceases to exist, the Cabinet order automatically loses its legal force. Regulations of the Cabinet however are in force as long as the delegating legal norm issued by the Saeima is in force.

22.  Both the regulations of the Cabinet and the measures included in the Cabinet order can be challenged before courts. External regulatory enactments—like regulations of the Cabinet—can be challenged before the Constitutional Court, however general administrative acts included in the Cabinet order can and have been challenged before the Administrative Court.

D.  Guidance

23.  Most of the Government measures have been formalized in legal instruments. They are therefore binding, and any infringement can be punished. Guidance has taken the form of recommendations where the relevant sectoral ministry is authorized,51 in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, to issue detailed recommendations in the area of its competence. Also, pursuant to authorization by the 1997 Epidemiological Safety Law, the Ministry of Health has issued recommendations which cover the basic principles of the precautionary measures for the containment of Covid-19 infection when providing public services or organizing private events in public places or public events.52 These recommendations are generally consistent with the existing legally binding regulations and there are no significant divergences between recommendations and law.

III.  Institutions and Oversight

A.  The role of legislatures in supervising the executive

24.  One of the functions of the Saeima is parliamentary scrutiny, or the supervision of the work of the Government. The Cabinet of Ministers (the Government) is the leader of the executive branch. The Government as a whole and each minister individually is politically accountable to the Saeima. Once a year, the Prime Minister reports on the Government’s performance and planned activities at a plenary sitting.53 The Saeima also hosts an annual foreign policy debate. The Saeima carries out parliamentary scrutiny of the executive branch in numerous ways, including through the work of its committees. If Members of the Saeima are dissatisfied with the work of a particular sector, they may submit an inquiry to the government. If the Saeima supports the inquiry, it may decide, in the context of the inquiry, to hold a vote of confidence in the relevant minister or the entire Cabinet. Additionally, Members of the Saeima may submit questions to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Governor of the Bank of Latvia regarding matters within the scope of competence of these officials. Answers may be submitted in writing or provided in person at the relevant sitting of the Saeima.54 Votes of confidence in the relevant minister are quite common in the Latvian parliament. The committees scrutinize the work of the Government, request information about topical issues from ministers and institutions subordinated to or supervised by the ministries, and provide recommendations for streamlining the work of the executive branch. The committees have the right to request explanations from officials of the executive branch directly. Parliamentary inquiries are among the tools of parliamentary scrutiny.

25.  The Saeima may form a parliamentary investigative committee for investigating and collecting information regarding the actions of Government institutions.55 The Saeima must appoint a parliamentary investigative committee if at least one-third of MPs request it.56 On 8 April 2021, based on a request by 36 MPs, the Saeima decided to set up a parliamentary investigative committee on the Government’s action regarding Covid-19 management.57

26.  Parliamentary scrutiny shall be applied in case of a declaration of an emergency situation (see Part II above). Article 4(3) of the Covid-19 Management Law provides that the Cabinet shall inform the Saeima of the imposition of the restrictions provided in Article 4(1) of this law which affects the rights and lawful interests of persons or which may impact the economy of the state. A committee designated by the Saeima, may suggest that the Cabinet reviews the intended restrictions on rights of persons, in case less restrictive measures can be implemented for prevention of Covid-19 risks.58 Accordingly, the Saeima required the Cabinet to review the requirement of mask use in primary schools on 21 December 2020 and 4 March 2021.5960 Following the extensive campaigning of restaurants and cafes for the opening of outdoor terraces, on 29 April 2021 the Saeima overruled the restriction of the Cabinet by permitting the opening of outdoor terraces as of 7 May 2021.61

27.  The legislator can terminate the power of the Government provided by laws adopted by Saeima at any time. In its recent Judgement Number 2020-26-0106 concerning the power of the legislator, the Constitutional Court stated: ‘[i]n a situation when urgency prevents waiting for the Saeima to take the relevant decision within the legislative process, the Cabinet as a smaller and more unified authority is authorized to take individual steps which under normal circumstances fall within the competence of the Saeima. Such mandate does not alter the status of Parliament as a democratically legitimized legislator. The additional powers delegated to the Government shall only extend its competence and the right to act if such a need arises, but do not reduce the rights of Parliament. Within the framework specified by the Constitution, the Saeima may adopt a law on any matter’.62 The Saeima has authority at any time to issue its own regulations on matters delegated to the Cabinet during an emergency, and also has power to overrule the regulations issued by the government.

B.  The functioning of the legislature where its ordinary business is disrupted

28.  On 13 March 2020, following the declaration of the emergency situation, the Saeima decided to announce a break in the regular session until 9 April 2020 and moved to emergency mode. The Parliament continued its work by meeting in extraordinary sittings. These were considered as more appropriate ways to continue the work of the Saeima during an emergency. Extraordinary sittings are not very different from regular sessions, but they can be convened when necessary, though the published agenda cannot be altered. Committees of the Parliament also continued to work by convening meetings to address the most pressing issues. Meetings were organized in various hybrid formats such as fully online, partially online, or in some cases in person.63

29.  Shortly after, preparations were made to organize sittings in a video conference format. MPs working in the Plenary Chamber in eight separate parliamentary premises were provided with conference equipment. Parliamentarians were able to take the floor and adopt decisions by voting. The plenary sitting was broadcast live on the Saeima website, so that the public and media representatives could follow the work of the legislature as usual. This was a temporary solution to ensure that plenary sittings were held in line with the procedures laid down in the Rules of Procedure of the Saeima. Committees were provided with the possibility to hold meetings remotely, with MPs remaining outside the Saeima facilities. Using a video conferencing platform, sittings of the Saeima Presidium were also held remotely.64

30.  The Saeima claims to be one of the first parliaments in the world to fully shift to remote work during the Covid-19 crisis.65 Thanks to the new e-Saeima platform, from 16 May 2020 plenary sittings can be held remotely, with MPs participating from outside the Parliament premises. The new platform is a unique information technology solution developed specifically for the needs of the Saeima. It ensures the most important functions of parliamentary sittings, namely, the opportunity to debate and vote on items included in the plenary agenda. Both functions work in real time. MPs may connect to the e-Saeima platform using a dedicated website on the internet and relying on a secure authentication method—the e-signature. The work of the Saeima remained open to the public, and anyone interested could follow the remote sitting live on the Saeima website and the Parliament’s Facebook account.66 At the request of MPs, sittings of e-Saeima were continued after the end of the first emergency situation on 9 June 2020.67 Sittings of the Saeima on the e-Saeima platform continued during the second emergency situation until 6 July 2021. Media were and are offered the opportunity to follow the Saeima sittings and committee meetings remotely. An audio recording of the meetings can be provided to the media upon request. Only MPs and employees who need to perform work in person were and are permitted to stay on the premises of the Saeima.

31.  The legality of the e-Saeima process was contested by Limbazi and Ikskile municipalities and therefore reviewed by the Constitutional Court in Case Number 2020-37-0106 concerning administrative territorial reform. The Court stated that there are no concerns regarding the physical whereabouts of the e-Saeima sittings, but more importantly three points were discussed. First, whether the procedural arrangements were in place and known to all MPs? Second, whether the principle of openness was observed? Third, whether the MPs were enabled to exercise their constitutional rights while examining the draft law. The conclusions were positive for all three questions. Thus, the examination and adoption of the contested provisions by the e-Saeima took place in accordance with legal provisions.68

C.  Role of and access to courts

32.  From 14 March to 9 April 2020 the Cabinet, by issuing amendments to Cabinet Order Number 103, provided that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court may determine the procedures and conditions under which the oral judicial proceedings and court hearings are postponed or adjourned.69 Suspension of oral proceedings in person which are not related to a significant infringement of the rights and urgency was ordered on 16 March 2020. It was suggested either to use written procedure as far as possible or videoconference mode.70 Access to justice was not denied, given that judicial services were available remotely. The court used written procedures as much as possible or examined cases remotely. There was a possibility to hold an oral hearing of a case in case of necessity.

33.  From 5 April to 9 June 2020, access to courts was governed by Article 4 of the Law on the Operation of State Authorities During the Emergency Situations Related to the Spread of Covid-19.71 The law provided that: (1) oral hearings shall be held in cases related to significant infringement of rights and objective urgency;72 (2) courts shall examine civil cases in written procedure only if procedural rights of participants can be ensured;73 (3) under appeal procedures, criminal proceedings may be tried in written procedure unless a public prosecutor or a person whose interests and rights are infringed objects to it;74 (4) administrative offence cases shall be examined in written procedure. From 12 May 2020, the law provided that if, in a civil case, the procedural time limit expires during the emergency situation, a court may extend or renew the procedural time limit within the time limit specified in the Civil Procedure Law or by the court 75

34.  From 10 June 2020, access to court was governed by the Law on Covid-19 Management, Articles 9 to 13 of which provide that the civil cases—except when related to significant infringement of rights and objective urgency—and criminal cases in appeal court can be tried in written procedures.76

35.  During the second emergency situation, courts were obliged to use written procedure as much as possible or had to examine cases remotely. In cases where this was not possible and the issue was related to a significant violation of the rights of a person and/or an objective urgency, or in cases related to State secrets, the examination was done in person, otherwise it would have to be postponed until revocation of the emergency situation.77

36.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Court Registries do not provide services in person. Electronic means of communication, postal services, or a post box at the court’s entrance is used.78 Guidelines with respect to organizational and administrative issues in courts during the emergency situation and Covid-19 pandemic were issued by the Courts Administration.79

37.  The Constitutional Court held the first remote hearing on 23 April 2020 in the form of a video conference. The court hearing with case participants being present was available live on the Court’s YouTube account. The elections of the President and the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court were held remotely in video conference mode.80 The President of the Court Sanita Osipova stressed: ‘[t]his year, the Constitutional Court has proved that it can adjust its work to complicated conditions and fully perform its functions also during an emergency situation. I confirm that also at this time applications keep being accepted and processed. Cases are prepared and heard within the time periods stipulated by law. The Constitutional Court is working to ensure timely and effective protection of infringed rights.’81

38.  In 2020, the total duration of all video conferencing has been 16,243 hours, a 29.9% increase compared to 2019. During the second state of emergency, a total of 1,734 hearings were held in videoconference mode, mostly used in criminal proceedings. A significant number of hearings were held on the Microsoft Teams platforms but are not currently listed and reported in the statistics.82 It has been concluded that in 2020 courts were able to maintain their tasks in adjudicating cases almost in the same amount as 2019—there was minimal decrease in speed during the emergency situation.83

39.  The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia has judicial review powers over declarations of state of emergency and public health emergencies and is entitled to declare laws or other enactments or parts thereof invalid.84 The courts have the right to submit an application to the Constitutional Court regarding the initiation of matters regarding the compliance of laws, including the ones declaring a state of emergency or public health emergencies, or international agreements only if adjudicating a civil, criminal, or administrative matter. The President, the Parliament, not less than 20 deputies of the Parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Prosecutor General, the Council of the State Audit Office, a local government council, the Ombudsman, the Land Registry Judge, and the Board of the Justice all have the right to submit an application to the Constitutional Court.85 A private person may submit a constitutional complaint, if they consider that an unlawful legal provision infringes their fundamental rights.86

40.  On 11 December 2020, the Constitutional Court delivered a judgment in Case Number 2020-26-0106 ‘[o]n compliance of Articles 8 and 9 of the Law on Measures for the Prevention and Suppression of Threat to the State and Its Consequences Due to the Spread of Covid-19 with Article 1, the first sentence of Article 91 and the first and the third sentences of Article 105 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia and compliance of Article 9 with Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’,87 which, inter alia, declared the contested provision, insofar as it required the Lotteries and Gambling Supervisory Inspection to suspend licences to operate gambling in the interactive environment and (or) using the intermediation of electronic communications services, to be non-compliant with Article 1 of the Constitution in conjunction with the first and the third sentences of Article 105.88 The case was initiated with respect to applications by companies providing online gambling and in-house gambling services.

D.  Elections

41.  Neither parliamentary elections nor local government elections were planned in 2020. Regular municipal elections, except in Riga, were held on 5 June 2021 as normal.

42.  However, on 13 February 2020 the Saeima adopted the Law on Dissolution of the Riga City Council.89 Extraordinary elections were originally scheduled to take place on 25 April 2020. Due to the emergency situation and the restrictions imposed to reduce spread of Covid-19, the elections were postponed to 6 June and later to 29 August 2020 when the Riga City Council elections took place.90 To reduce the Covid-19 risks of the event, the Central Election Commission issued recommendations on Covid-19 infection prevention at the polling stations. When visiting a polling station, voters had to keep a two-metre distance, disinfect their hands, and cover their mouth and nose. Voters were invited to use their own writing tools at the polling station, but if the voter did not have such capabilities, the polling station provided each voter with a pen.91 Based on the data provided by the Central Election Commission, the turnout in the Riga municipal elections decreased by 18.72% compared to previous elections in 2017. In 2017 the total number of eligible voters was 426,505, while in 2020 it was 422,681. However, it cannot be unequivocally concluded that the number of eligible voters decreased due to the amplified measures.

E.  Scientific advice

43.  There are no specific legal provisions stating a requirement to provide scientific data with respect to rules or restrictions governing public health matters. Therefore, there is no legally stated obligation for the Government to follow scientific advice. The requirement to follow evidence-based medicine principles is stated by Article 9(1) of the Medical Treatment Law, solely concerning medical treatment and use of medicinal products.92

44.  The obligation to base legislation in research and scientific advice was stated by the Constitutional Court in its Judgment 2018-11-01 from 6 March 2019 as follows: ‘[w]here necessary, the envisaged legal regulation should be substantiated by explanatory research. In the creation of legal norms, in particular, in cases where the fundamental rights are restricted, the legislator must have as the basis the social impact study of the intended legal regulation and must consider the measures required for introducing and enforcing said legal regulation, as well as risk estimates provided by the experts of the fields.’93 This statement was reiterated by the Constitutional Court in its Judgment Number 2020-26-0106,94 where the Court provided that the exception to the obligation to provide a scientific basis can be applied during the emergency situation when regulations are issued in a very short period of time. With respect to Covid-19 data, the Constitutional Court itself referred to the documents issued by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, statements by the WHO Director General95, and scientific papers.96 The Court stated that the virus spreads through small drops in the air resulting from human speaking, coughing, and sneezing, without providing reference to any source.97

45.  There are no legal scientific advisers fully independent of the Government acting in Latvia. Scientific advice to the Minister of Health and to the Government is provided by the Chief Specialists of the Ministry of Health, of which one is professor in infectious diseases. The Chief Specialists are an institution established for planning the development of the relevant field of health, solving health-related problems, and coordinating the activities of medical institutions and other institutions.98 In accordance with Article 3(7) of the Regulations of activities of the Chief Specialist of the Ministry of Health, the duties of the Chief Specialists, in their relevant profession and specialty and in accordance with their competence, are to perform the tasks given by the Minister of Health. The Chief Specialist shall exercise their duties and rights only in accordance with the task given by the Minister of Health and within the framework of the task given by the Minister of Health.99 Consequently, the Chief Specialist as the chief advisor of the Ministry of Health is not considered to be independent from the Government; on the contrary, the Chief Specialists are dependent on and work closely within the tasks given by the Minister of Health.

F.  Freedom of the press and freedom of information

46.  There were no legal or other formal restrictions regarding reporting on Covid-19 by the media. However, since the beginning of the pandemic and until 16 February 2021, sittings of the Cabinet of Ministers with regards to Covid-19 issues, which in general are open to the public, representatives of NGOs, and the media, took place as closed meetings. Information concerning the decisions of the Cabinet was provided to the media in a press conference shortly after every closed sitting. That approach restricted the ability of journalists as well as society in general to observe the Government’s decision-making process independently. In February 2021, mainly members of the opposition parties in the Parliament submitted a proposal to require open meetings of the Cabinet on Covid-19 issues; the Parliament sitting took place on 16 February 2021.100 The Prime Minister declared that in order to strengthen the transparency of decisions and raise public awareness of their decision-making, future Government sittings to address the restrictions, support measures, and vaccination issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic would be open and video recordings would be available to watch live on the website of the Cabinet of Ministers.101 These sittings are organized in an online format. As the Latvian Minister of Justice Bordans has pointed out, ‘decision-making in closed sittings poses not only communication problems but also legal ones’, adding that public confusion is caused by secret decision-making on issues such as goods that may or may not be traded in shops during an emergency.102

47.  The editor of the Center for Investigative Journalism, Baltica Jemberga, revealed: ‘[t]here is a lot of information during the pandemic, but it is one-way—Saeima and Government meetings are remote, politicians explain the decisions taken at press conferences where journalists have no opportunity to ask additional questions. It is often not known what is happening, because the meetings are closed during the pandemic, the decisions are secret. It is also a problem to ask for answers and responsibility, because it is not possible to ask questions personally during remote work, officials only respond in writing and in general terms.’103

G.  Ombuds and oversight bodies

48.  The Ombudsman of Latvia (Tiesībsargs) is playing a crucial role in securing the protection of human rights during the pandemic. He verifies that restrictions set by the Government are reasonable and are set for an, if possible, short period of time. He provides opinions with respect to the protection of human rights issues during a pandemic in general and with respect to actions taken by the Government. The Ombudsman stressed that information with respect to Covid-19 provided by the Government has not been precise, clear, and timely, and there was a lack of information for people with disabilities. He stressed the need to protect the emotional and mental wellbeing of people, particularly those of more vulnerable groups, such as children, the youth and elderly, and people living with disabilities.104 Opinions of the Ombudsman are non-legally binding but have a certain authority. He is one of the leading voices with respect to human rights issues.

49.  The Ombudsman office has received numerous individual requests and complaints related to restrictions posed by the Government. As a response, the Ombudsman issues public statements and advice to public and private entities. For example, the opinion with respect to the criteria required to receive support for employees of companies affected by the pandemic was issued.105 In relation to closed institutions, the Ombudsman drew the Government’s attention to the observance of the Covid-19 restriction measures.106

50.  There is not a special reviewer of legislation or other public official appointed to monitor the public response to Covid-19 in Latvia.

IV.  Public Health Measures, Enforcement and Compliance

51.  Public health measures imposed to control the spread of Covid-19 in Latvia at the early stage of the pandemic were based on general provisions of the Epidemiological Safety law,107 as well as on Cabinet Order Number 103 establishing the first emergency situation from 12 March to 9 June 2020 (see Part II above).108 Some were put in place by sectoral ministerial orders.109 During that period the number of Covid-19 cases was low (the total number of cases up until 7 June was 1,088) and remained low during summer 2020 (the total number of cases up until 20 September 2020 was 1,525).110 Since 10 June 2020, public health measures are based on the Epidemiological Safety Law,111 the Law on Covid-19 Management,112 and Cabinet Regulation Number 360 (up to 15 May 2021, the regulation has been amended 50 times) (see Part II above).113 The number of cases started to increase considerably at the end of September 2020 and soared by the end of October 2020 (the total number of cases up until 8 November 2020 was 8,095, an increase of 6,570 since 20 September 2020). The second emergency declaration was issued on 6 November 2020 and lasted until 6 April 2021—the second emergency situation was prolonged three times by amendments in Cabinet Order No 655 (see Part II above). During the second emergency situation, public health measures in addition to the aforementioned laws were cited by Cabinet Order Number 655 in an extensive manner.114

A.  Public health measures

1.  Individual mobility restrictions on citizens (stay-at-home, curfews, etc)

52.  There were no restrictions imposed on internal mobility of residents until 30 December 2020. Due to an extreme increase in cases during the second emergency situation,115 the Cabinet introduced weekend stay-at-home orders (mājsēde) during the New Year holidays (30 December 2020–4 January 2021) and on the following Friday and Saturday nights from 10pm to 5am, lasting until 7 February 2021.116 If movement was necessary, people had to arrange a self-certification form.117 Police controlled compliance with the stay-at-home order and numerous violations were reported, with more than 1,430 administrative fines imposed.118

2.  Restrictions on international and internal travel

53.  There were no restrictions on internal travel, except limitations with respect to the maximum capacity of people as well as the obligation to comply with epidemiological safety requirements on public transport.119

54.  Restrictions on international travel have been very broad and diverse throughout the pandemic. From 17 March to 9 June 2020, Cabinet Order Number 103 prohibited the movement of citizens and vehicles through airport, port, railway, and road border crossing points at the EU external border.120 Only nationals and residents of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were authorized to cross the border.121 Repatriation flights and ferries were organized. From 16 April 2020, exceptions were provided to merchants whose employees needed to travel.122 From 15 May 2020, the international carriage of passengers was resumed to and from Lithuania and Estonia.123

55.  From 10 June 2020, Cabinet Regulation Number 360 allowed international passenger carriage to/from the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA), and the United Kingdom (UK),124 but travel to and from ‘red listed’ countries remained subject to restrictions (up until 15 January 2021).125 Countries were originally red-listed if their 14-day cumulative rate of cases per 100,000 was over 25, but, as of 3 September 2020, they were red-listed if their infection rate was double the average of the EU/EEA and the UK. The ‘red list’ was published on the CDC website and was updated weekly.126 Up until 15 August 2020, restrictions that led to cancellations of flights and bus lines took effect immediately, or on the following Monday at the latest.127

56.  Latvia did not permit international passenger transport to countries outside the EU or the EEA until 17 March 2021.128

57.  From 11 February 2021, only travelers who could demonstrate that they were travelling for essential or important purposes were permitted to enter Latvia.129 Important reasons for entry were those that were urgently necessary for the purpose of work, study, family reunification, receipt of medical services, transit or supervision of minors, as well as to return to their place of residence or to attend a funeral.

58.  Since 15 January 2021, a negative test taken 72 hours before arrival is required for all people arriving from abroad.130

3.  Limitations on public and private gatherings and events

59.  In spring 2020, Cabinet Order Number 103 provided that all in-person public events including meetings, processions, and pickets were banned.131 Informal gatherings were initially limited to 50 persons, but from 25 March 2020 these were also banned, except outdoor funerals and christenings in emergency cases.132 From 12 May 2020, organized events were permitted for up to 25 participants.133

60.  In the summer of 2020, limits on indoor gatherings varied over time, from an initial maximum of 100, up to 1000, and then back down to 30; outdoor gatherings varied similarly, from 300, to 3000, and then back down to 300.134 Limits to private gatherings were set from 17 October 2020 permitting 30 and later 10 people indoors, and 300 and later 10 outdoors.135

61.  With the introduction of the second emergency situation (see Part II above) from 9 November 2020, all public activities (eg theaters, concerts, cinema screenings) on-site were banned.136 Private events were restricted to 10 people and two households, and from 2 December 2020 were also banned, except for events within one household.137 Up to 50 and later 25 people were permitted to gather for meetings, processions, and pickets outdoors.138 Exceptions were made for funeral services and urgent christenings.139

62.  From 30 December 2020 to 6 April 2021, any public events on-site, including fireworks, meetings, processions, and pickets were prohibited.140

63.  From 7 April 2021, outdoor private gatherings were permitted for 10 persons from two households, as well as processions and pickets for 10 persons.141

4.  Closure of premises and facilities (eg, schools, shops, services, parks, churches, sport facilities)

64.  From 13 March 2020, all educational institutions were closed and distance learning was required.142 Concerns were raised with respect to access to online learning as data collected by the Ministry of Education and Science showed that 3% of children did not have devices and access to the internet.143 Child-care institutions were open, but limited to parents who did not have alternative means of providing child care.144 From 12 May 2020, schools were open for five and six year old children.145 From 1 June 2020, exams were allowed in person.146

65.  From 1 September 2020, schools and universities provided on-site studies mixed with remote learning. During September and October 2020, several schools and pre-schools had been affected by Covid-19 and some were partially closed. Students in classes with an infection were shifted to online learning.

66.  From 26 October 2020, classes for higher education and grades 7–12 took place remotely only.147 On-site education was continued for grades 5–6 until 7 December 2020, and for grades 1–4 until 20 December 2020.148 The Christmas holidays were prolonged for grades 1–4, and on 25 January 2020 they started distance learning.149 Education is prioritized, therefore the Cabinet on 18 February 2021 adopted a regional approach to opening primary schools in Covid-19 safe areas—this corresponds to a 14-day incidence rate below 200 with no alarming local epidemiological data.150 From 7 April 2021, provision of on-site education for grades 1–6 and 12, and partially for grades 7–9 and 10–11, was allowed under Cabinet Regulation Number 360, permitting students to return to school in territories where Covid-19 risks were evaluated as moderate.151

67.  From 29 March to 12 May 2020, shops were closed on weekends and public holidays, while designated retailers selling essential goods remained open.152 During the summer of 2020, retailers were required to implement safety measures and physical distancing rules.153

68.  From 9 November 2020, Cabinet Order Number 655 provided that only shops selling essential goods as well as pharmacies could be open on weekends and public holidays.154 From 19 December 2020, retailers selling listed groups of goods could be open—the Ministry of Economics issued detailed regulations for the points of sale, including lists of goods. From 8 February 2020, full scale sale was permitted in pharmacies (including veterinary), opticians, fuel stations, and grocery stores. Other shops could sell only listed groups of goods.155 The number of people in shops was limited to a specified square metre per client.156 Clothes and luxury goods stores were shut until 6 April 2021. From 7 April 2021, stores with a sales area under 7,000m2 outside shopping centres could operate, but in large shopping centres only listed service providers and shops could operate.157

69.  Distance selling and e-commerce was not restricted, including the delivery of goods as well as the receipt in stores of online purchases.158 Wholesale of goods necessary for operation of companies, production, etc was not been interrupted.

70.  During the first and second emergency situation of the pandemic, religious activities performed in gatherings were banned. Limits to the opening of churches were set from 6am to 8pm, and then later to 10pm.159 Visitors to religious places, as well as clergy and ministry staff, must wear a mask. Singing by choirs and on-site Sunday school classes was prohibited.160 As from March 2021, funerals and baptism ceremonies may be organized indoors for less than 10 persons at the same time.161

5.  Physical distancing

71.  Requirement to observe two metres of physical distance between persons in indoor and outdoor public premises has been obligatory since 20 March 2020. Exceptions to this rule, eg for not more than two persons, or persons living in one household, were set out in Cabinet Order Number 103 and Cabinet Regulation Number 360.162 The scientific justification for the requirement is not known.

6.  Use of face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE)

72.  During spring 2020, the general use of face coverings was not required, except in public transport from 12 May to 1 July 2020.163 During summer 2020, masks were required in public places where distancing was not possible and the length of stay was longer than 15 minutes.164 The obligation to wear a mask on public transport was reintroduced from 7 October 2020,165 except for children younger than 13, and from 14 October 2020 in all public places where visitors were not separated from staff by a physical barrier.166 From 24 October 2020, face masks were mandatory in all indoor public places,167 and from 3 December 2020 this included the workplace.168 Wearing a face mask is not obligatory for children under seven or for people who have difficulty wearing a mask.169 The organizer of an event must bar entry to people who are not properly masked.170

7.  Isolations of infected individuals and quarantine of individuals suspected of infection

73.  Article 19 of the Epidemiological Safety Law provides that mandatory self-isolation and quarantine requirements can be established by the Cabinet in response to a public health threat.171 Further isolation and quarantine rules are set out in Cabinet Regulation Number 413.172

74.  The Cabinet, by issuing Cabinet Order Number 103 and later Cabinet Regulation Number 360, as well as amendments to Cabinet Regulation Number 413, imposed strict isolation and home quarantine rules for infected persons and their contacts from 13 March 2020.173 A person who tests positive for Covid-19 must stay at a medical institution, their ‘place of stay’, or their place of residence.174 Forcible isolation can be applied in case an infected person avoids isolation.175 The person shall be available for communication with health care professionals and comply with the instructions of an epidemiologist, and shall not come into contact with other persons.176 For discontinuation of isolation, permission must be obtained from a physician.177

75.  Those who have come in contact with an infected person are required to observe home quarantine for 14 days, or 10 days if they test negative,178 after their last contact with the infected person.179

76.  A 14-day isolation period,180 10 days as of 17 September 2020,181 must be observed by persons arriving from countries with a high incidence—50 new Covid-19 cases (earlier it was 16 and 25) per 100,000 inhabitants over the course of the last two weeks—with very few exceptions.182

8.  Testing, treatment, and vaccination

77.  In early March 2020, testing was only provided to persons with respiratory disease symptoms who had been returning from abroad or been in contact with Covid-19 patients.183 A few weeks later, hospital patients, social care home residents, and essential workers displaying respiratory disease symptoms were also provided woith testing. Later in April 2020, testing was expanded, covering persons referred for testing by a GP, staff of pre-schools, transport service providers, and others.184

78.  Since 10 June 2020, when amendments to the Epidemiological Safety Law and Cabinet Regulation Number 413 entered into force,185 Covid-19 was listed as a dangerous infectious disease requiring mandatory testing, treatment, and isolation.186

79.  From 10 June to 26 October 2020, State-paid testing services were widely available. Due to long waiting times (six days) for testing in October 2020, the Government required referral from a GP or other medical personnel.187 Since 19 December 2020, free tests can be received by anyone who has symptoms, without any referral.

80.  Based on the Epidemiological Safety Law and Cabinet Regulation Number 413, treatment of Covid-19 is mandatory and State-paid.188 Treatment of patients at home is provided by GPs remotely.189 As soon as there are symptoms requiring hospital care, a patient is transferred to a hospital specifically designated for treatment of Covid-19. In early January 2021, there were hospitals where the patient load exceeded 100% of the allotted capacity. New patients were put in quickly adapted rooms which were previously used for patients with very different diseases.190 Particular regulations apply for treatment of Covid-19 patients in prisons.191

81.  Latvia's vaccination rate until May 2021 was one of the lowest in the EU. The process has been plagued woith problems from many perspectives, demonstrating errors in both initial procurement and an inability to distribute vaccines throughout the country, as well as the reluctance of the public to be vaccinated.192 Vaccination against Covid-19 is voluntary in Latvia, including for healthcare professionals.

9.  Contact tracing procedures

82.  The persons who have come in to contact with an infected individual are traced by the CDC.193 Since 21 November 2020, the duty to trace contacts was extended to GPs, heads of educational institutions, and to employers due to the increasing numbers of infection and lack of capacity of the CDC.194

83.  Latvia was the first country to launch a tracing app, ‘Apturi Covid’ (Stop Covid), on 29 May 2020. It is a voluntary, decentralized General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)-compliant app based on Bluetooth technology, which identifies other nearby users.195 From 2 November 2020, this app joined the transnational co-operation service solution developed by the European Commission, based on the EU Commission Implementing Decision 2020/1023 of 15 July 2020.196 The Latvian app is ‘communicating’ with similar applications in other EU countries.197

84.  In October 2020, Latvia introduced an electronic information system for monitoring persons for whom home quarantine or isolation has been required. Operational safeguards of this electronic system are set out in Cabinet Regulation Number 360.198

85.  From 14 May 2020, all persons entering Latvia are required to submit a paper form,199 and then from 12 October 2020 an electronic form, on covidpass.lv, certifying compliance with self-isolation requirements.200

10.  Measures in long-term care facilities or homes for the elderly, restrictions on visitors etc.

86.  During the first state of emergency, Cabinet Order Number 103 provided that social care institutions shall restrict visits to the institution, except when ensuring basic functions and with the permission of the head of the institution.201

87.  Article 23 of the Law on the operation of State institutions during the state of emergency related to the spread of Covid-19 suspended the placement of new clients in such institutions. Exceptions were made for social rehabilitation services for victims of violence and children without parental care. The law provided that social services at a place of residence shall be provided remotely, except for a case where it is impossible.202 Admission of new clients resumed as of 10 June 2020.

88.  Guidelines for providing care in social care institutions for the prevention of the spread of Covid-19 were developed by the CDC, the Health Inspectorate, and the Ministry of Welfare at the end of March 2020 and updated later.203 After a mass infection in the elderly care home ‘Marsnēni’ in April 2020 (39 clients and eight staff members were infected),204 additional recommendations were issued.205

89.  Mass testing of residents and staff in social care homes began in mid-April 2020.206 During the first stage, the number of cases in social care homes had been relatively small.207 Unfortunately, as of November 2020, residents and staff of social care institutions were severely affected. In December 2020, there were 500–700 new cases per week (12.8% of the total cases) in social care institutions, exceeding more than 4,000 people in total. The Ministry of Welfare estimated that 80 social care institutions had been affected by the infection throughout Latvia.208 On 3 February 2021, the Cabinet adopted the Action Plan for limiting Covid-19 in social care institutions.209 Vaccination of residents and staff at these institutions began on 10 February 2021.

B.  Enforcement and compliance

1.  Enforcement

90.  The duties of individual State and municipal authorities with respect to epidemiological safety are set out in the Epidemiological Safety Law, the Law on Covid-19 Management, and Cabinet regulations. The Ministry of Health draws up and implements the State policy for the prophylaxis and combating of infectious diseases, and ensures the coordination and uniformity of work in this field, drawing up draft laws and regulations regarding the prophylaxis of infectious diseases and the implementation of counter-epidemic measures.210 The CDC plans and coordinates measures for the prophylaxis and combating of infectious diseases, ensures epidemiological surveillance and collects, accumulates, and analyzes data, coordinates the implementation of the State immunisation policy, performs epidemiological investigations, and informs the public.211 The State Emergency Medical Service coordinates and organises public health protection measures in response to public health threats.212 The Health Inspectorate controls the implementation of the prophylactic and counter-epidemic requirements laid down in laws and regulations, as well as monitors persons for whom home quarantine or isolation has been specified. The Health Inspectorate has the right to involve the State police and the municipal police.213

91.  The Health Inspectorate, the State Police, and the municipal police monitors compliance with epidemiological safety measures.214 Additionally, the State Border Guard has the authority to control compliance with the requirement to submit information to the covidpass.lv system.215 These authorities are competent to conduct administrative proceedings for failure to fulfil the obligations imposed or for breach of restrictions.216

92.  If a person for whom an obligation is imposed by the regulations of the Cabinet or other State institutions fails to comply, Part D of the Administrative Procedure Law provides for coercive measures, such as enforcement or monetary fine from 50–5,000 euros for natural persons and up to 10,000 euros for legal entities.217

93.  Up until 30 June 2020, administrative liability was set out in the Code of Administrative Violations. Article 42 provided for a fine of up to 700 euros for natural persons and up to 2,000 euros for legal entities for violation epidemiological safety. Article 176(2) provided that a fine of up to 350 euros shall be imposed for violations of the restrictions or prohibitions imposed during an emergency situation.

94.  Since 1 July 2020, the Law on Administrative Liability sets out general and procedural provisions, but sectoral laws and regulations stipulate administrative offences and administrative penalties. Chapter VII of the Law on Covid-19 Management provides that, in the case of failure to comply with restrictions or measures, fines may be imposed of up to 2,000 euros for natural persons and up to 5,000 euros for legal entities.218 Chapter VIII of the Epidemiological Safety Law states that for administrative offences in the field of epidemiological safety, fines can be imposed of up to 5,000 euros.219

95.  Article 140 of the Criminal Law provides that failure to comply with rules on sanitary hygiene and epidemiological safety, if such action has caused an epidemic, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty or by arrest.220 Article 225(1)] stipulates that violations of restrictions or prohibitions during an emergency situation, if substantial harm has been caused, can be punished by deprivation of liberty, community service, or a fine.221

2.  Compliance

96.  Studies carried out by order of the Cabinet are providing data concerning public opinion and compliance with public health measures.222 A survey from April 2020 shows that the emergency measures implemented by the Government were supported by 93% of respondents.223 In May 2020, the effectiveness of existing restrictions was assessed positively by 70% of participants.224 In November 2020, people were more concerned with the efficiency of the restrictions imposed, with only 38% of respondents considering restrictions to be relevant to the situation, 38% considered that they were not sufficiently strict, and 14% considered that they were too strict. 225 In December 2020, the proportions were respectively 31%, 28%, and 29%.226 In January 2021, 77% of respondents agreed that restrictions should be respected, even if they did not agree with them—61% of respondents said that the Government did not know what to do to limit the prevalence of Covid-19. 227 In February 2021, a higher percentage found the restrictions were too strict.228

Assoc. Prof. Solvita Olsena, University of Latvia, Faculty of Medicine

Mr. Mārtiņš Birģelis, University of Latvia, Faculty of Law

Mrs. Laura Kadile, University of Latvia, Faculty of Medicine

Footnotes:

1  See Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ‘Covid-19 statistics’ (accessed 24 May 2021).

4  Case No 2020-16-01 (Constitutional Court of the Repulic of Latvia [hereinafter Constitutional Court]) [19.2].

7  Latvia’s president may support restoration of Section 81 of the Constitution’ Baltic News Network (Online, 23 March 2020).

8  Satversme, art 81, excluded from the Satversme by the law adopted on 3 May 2007.

11  R Balodis, ‘Emergency situation regulatory framework: history and future challenges’ (2021) 6(1168) Jurista Vārds 6–10.

12  Permanent Representation of the Republic of Latvia to the Council of Europe, Note Verbale No EP-3315 (16 March 2020).

13  K Līce and E Vītola, ‘Declaration to international human rights organisations on the emergency situation in Latvia (2020) 15(1125) Jurista Vārds 10–14.

14  Council of Europe, Notification of communication and partial withdrawal of derogation (Nr. JJ9046C Tr./005-248) (15 May 2020).

15  Council of Europe, Notification of partial withdrawal of derogation (Nr. JJ9061C Tr./005-257) (3 June 2020).

16  Permanent Representation of the Republic of Latvia to the Council of Europe, Note Verbale No EP-10469 (10 June 2020).

17  Permanent Representation of the Republic of Latvia to the Council of Europe, Note Verbale No JJ9157C (31 December 2020).

18  Permanent Mission of Latvia to the United Nations, Notification under Article 4[3] (19 March 2020).

20  Centre for Disease Prevention and Control of Latvia, ‘Recommendations’ (accessed 24 May 2021).

34  Epidemiological Safety Law 1997, art 3(2).

39  See Database of parliamentary documents (in Latvian).

42  See Database of parliamentary documents (in Latvian).

43  See M Līcīte, ‘What will life be like after the emergency? Saeima adopts Covid-19 laws’ Panorama (Online, 5 June 2020).

44  S Olsena and L Kadile, ‘Healthcare in times of emergency situation: an example of legal nihilism’ (2021) 7(1169) Jurista Vārds 35–39.

47  Case No 2018-07-05 (Constitutional Court) [15.2].

48  N Laveniece-Straupmane, J Briede, V Liholaja, A Judins, and I Ziemele, ‘Emergency situation: views of lawyers on the legal framework and its application’ (2020) 11(1121) Jurista Vārds 6–11.

49  See Case No 2018-07-05 (Constitutional Court) [15.2].

50  Constitutional Court, Decision to reject the application No 114/2020 (1 June 2020).

52  Recommendations for the Prophylaxis of Covid-19 infection (Ministry of Health) (12 May 2020).

53  Saeima, ‘Functions of the Saeima’ (15 April 2021).

54  Saeima, ‘Functions of the Saeima’ (15 April 2021).

55  Saeima, ‘Functions of the Saeima’ (15 April 2021).

56  Saeima, ‘Functions of the Saeima’ (15 April 2021).

62  Case No 2020-26-0106 (Constitutional Court).

64  Saeima, ‘Saeima gears up for remote plenary sittings’ (2 April 2020).

68  Case No 2020-37-0106 (Constitutional Court), [24.2.1], [24.19.2].

70  On the work of Latvian courts in an emergency situation’ Tiesas (Online, 16 March 2020).

77  Law on the Management of the Spread of Covid-19 Infection (5 June 2020), arts 10, 10(1); Cabinet Order No 655 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (6 November 2020), arts 5(19.1), (19.3), (19.8).

78  Ibid.

84  Satversme, art 85.

85  Satversme, art 17.

87  Case No 2020-26-0106 (Constitutional Court).

92  Medical Treatment Law 1997, art 9(1.1).

93  Case No 2018-11-01 (Constitutional Court) [18.1].

94  Case No 2020-26- 0106 (Constitutional Court) [16.1].

95  Case 2020-26-0106 (Constitutional Court) [20.2.]

96  See, for example, A Håkansson, ‘Changes in Gambling Behavior during the COVID-19 Pandemic—A Web Survey Study in Sweden’ (2020) 17(11) International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health; A Håkansson, F Fernández-Aranda et al, ‘Gambling during the COVID-19 crisis –A cause for concern?’ (2020) 14(4) Journal of Addiction Medicine 10–12; J Marsden, S Darke et al, ‘Mitigating and learning from the impact of COVID‐19 infection on addictive disorders’ (2020) 115(6) Addiction 1007–1010.

97  Case 2020-26-0106 (Constitutional Court) [20.2].

99  Minister of Health, Regulations of activities of the Chief Specialist of the Ministry of Health (30 August 2016), para 7.

102  JKP calls for public government meetings on Covid-19 crisis management’ Apollo News (Online, 22 January 2021).

104  Ombudsman of the Republic of Latvia, Human rights during pandemic (Online, 25 March 2021).

106  European Network of National Human Rights Institutions ‘Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Latvia’ (26 June 2020).

110  See Center for Disease Prevention and Control ‘Covid-19 statistics’ (accessed 24 May 2021).

111  Amended to secure Covid-19-related needs on 5 June 2020, see Amendments of the Epidemiolocal Safety Law of 5 June 2020.

117  Cabinet Order No 655 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (6 November 2020), paras 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.1.3.

118  M Rozenberga, ‘Just over 10% of penalties for home-time violations paid within the deadline’ Latvian Public Media (6 February 2021).

150  Cabinet Order No 655 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (6 November 2020), paras 5.13.2.1, 5.13.2.2.

168  Cabinet Order No 655 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (6 November 2020), paras 5.4, 5.9, 5.13.2.1 etc.

173  Cabinet Order No 103 regarding the Declaration of the Emergency Situation (12 March 2020), paras 4.12.1.1, 4.12.2.1.

187  Health Ministry mulls change in Covid-19 testing order in Latvia’ Public Broadcasting of Latvia (Online, 21 October 2020).

190  P Devica, ‘Covid-19 patient load exceeds 100% in some hospitals’ Public Broadcasting of Latvia (Online, 4 January 2021).

192  It has been a year since the first state of emergency in Latvia’ Public Broadcasting of Latvia (Online, 12 March 2021).

193  Epidemiological Safety Law 1997, arts 7(4), 7(6), 19.

195  Ministry of Health, ‘App Terms’ (26 October 2020).

196  EUR-Lex, Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2020/1023 (16 July 2020).

197  Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ‘“Stop Covid” apps collaboration countries’ (8 October 2020).

204  European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, ‘Coronavirus pandemic in the EU – Fundamental Rights Implications’ (3 June 2020).

206  Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ‘State funded Covid-19 tests: who should take tests and how to proceed’ (9 April 2020).

207  Panorama, ‘Covid-19 hits two social care centres in Vidzeme’ (Online, 1 May 2020).

208  L Barisa-Sermule, ‘More than 4,000 sick in a couple of months; nursing homes are unable to stop Covid-19’ De Facto (Online, 17 January 2021).

210  Epidemiological Safety Law 1997, art 5(1).

211  Epidemiological Safety Law 1997, arts 5, 7(1).

217  Admnistrative Procedure Law 2001, Part D - Execution of an Administrative Act.

218  Admnistrative Procedure Law 2001, arts 50, 50(1).

220  Criminal Law 1998, art 140.

221  Criminal Law 1998, art 225(1).

222  Cabinet of Ministers, ‘Studies’ (28 January 2021).

224  BERG Research, ‘Study on public treatment Covid-19’ (May 2020).

225  SKDS, ‘Study on public treatment Covid-19’ (November 2020).

226  SKDS, ‘Study for public treatment Covid-19’ (December 2020).

227  SKDS, ‘Study for public treament Covid-19’ (January 2021).

228  SKDS, ‘Study for public treatment Covid-19’ (February 2021).