RIGA - Employees in the education sector will be allowed to continue working in person only if they have valid Covid-19 certificates, the Cabinet of Ministers decided on Tuesday.
Until November 15, in-person teaching and supervision of children, except at universities and colleges, will also be allowed for teachers who have performed a Covid-19 RNA test in the past 48 hours, an antigen test in the past six hours, or a routine screening test, and the tests came back negative.
At colleges and universities, studies will continue only in epidemiologically safe environment, i.e., only persons who have certificates proving that they have been vaccinated against or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed to attend the educational institution in person.
Until mid-November, educational institutions will continue to test employees in collaboration with a laboratory performing Covid-19 tests.
The government also made Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for certain professions - those working at preschools, primary and secondary schools, and higher education institutions, as well as employees in informal education, college and university students, and service providers who come in contact with students while providing their services.
Teachers who have received a vaccine registered with the European Medicines Agency but have not yet completed the vaccination process will be provided with state-funded routine screening tests by November 15. Teachers who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 will have to cover the cost of routine screening tests from October 11 to November 15.
Although the government supported the new legislation, Education and Science Minister Anita Muizniece (New Conservative Party) insisted that no specific date should be set after which which employees in the education sector would be required to have Covid-19 certificates.
Muizniece said that she had mixed feelings about the government's decision - on the one hand, she fully supports the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, but on the other hand, she is concerned that setting a specific date will have consequences for the education sector, because the legislation does not provide any alternatives for unvaccinated teachers and employees.
First of all, alternatives for unvaccinated employees must be agreed upon. If not, and especially at preschools, there will be a lack of teachers able to continue working in person, said Muizniece.
School principals do not have the right to announce a vacancy if the contract with an employee has not been terminated, reminded the minister. She also expects that there will be many school principals tearing their hair out on November 15 as part of teachers will not show up for work.
Inga Vanaga, Chairwoman of the Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees, agreed with Muizniece, adding that the workload of teachers who have been vaccinated should not increase if their unvaccinated colleagues stop coming to work, not without at least some kind of compensation.
In turn, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins (New Unity) emphasized that the aim was not to make things more difficult than they are - the aim is to find solutions so that schools do not have to close due to the rising Covid-19 incidence and increasingly more Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospitals.
Covid-19 vaccines offer the safest way out, Karins emphasized.
The government also tasked the Welfare Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the State Chancellery with developing guidelines for employers in situations that involve dismissal of employees who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19, as well as the possibility to timely advertise vacancies that will occur after unvaccinated employees are dismissed.
The new rules will come into effect on October 11.