VILNIUS – A major breakthrough in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic in Lithuania under control is expected in June, Simonas Krepsta, a chief adviser to President Gitanas Nauseda, says.
"We are at a special crossroads and we are really close to that moment when the situation will start improving because of the vaccination gaining momentum," he told after a meeting with members of the council of experts advising the president on Tuesday.
In his words, the UK's example was discussed during the meeting, showing that once a quarter of people are vaccinated, the number of new infection cases and the number of people in hospitals start going down. And "the situation changes dramatically" once at least a half of the population receive one vaccine doze.
"We can expect that in Lithuania in early June. We are definitely close to a major breakthrough bringing the pandemic under control. But until then, lockdown measures and compliance with them are key," Krepsta said.
CALLS FOR CLEAR SYSTEM
Asked about the Health Ministry's recent decision to allocate around half of all new vaccine dozes for all municipalities to Vilnius, the adviser said "the logic behind the decision is understandable".
"But the implementation of this decision is really not appropriate. As we heard that regions were notified about lower vaccine amounts to be delivered only several hours before the fact. And other cities had to cancel planned vaccination, and that, with no doubt, does not add to smooth vaccination," he said.
In his words, a consistent system would help to manage the situation, by clearly saying that the so-called "black" municipalities (with high infection numbers) might get additional vaccines for a certain period of time.
"Such a system and its smooth implementation would be much more meaningful and would not cause additional tensions," he said.
Lithuania has so far vaccinated almost a quarter of its residents, Krepsta said, adding that the existing wish is to for Lithuania to get more vaccines and step up the ongoing vaccine rollout. In his words, as of Monday, more than 1 million dozes had been delivered and the country is among the leaders in Europe in terms of vaccination.
"The key thing is that we'll get the second million vaccines faster and we’ll do that over a period that will be three times shorter than we did with the first million," he said.
EXPERT: COVID-19 SPREAD SLOWS DOWN
Professor Mindaugas Stankunas from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, says Lithuania has been in the "black" zone since April 17 and there are now 534 cases per 100,000 people. But, he says, compared to October and November, the growth rate "is slower and much more different from what we saw before".
In his words, in terms of the Rt (reproduction) rate, Lithuania "is split into two equal parts", meaning that in half of the country's municipalities the rate exceeds 1 and is below 1 in the remaining ones.
GROWTH UNTIL MID-MAY
The expert says the late-March prognosis has materialized as a daily case figure 1,000 was expected in the second half of April under the "medium scenario".
Under the pessimistic scenario, the daily case rate could go up to 2,500 cases but Stankunas says that even if happens so, taking into account the existing situation, such an increase would last shorter than expected before.
The professor believes the daily case average of several hundred could be reached in the first half of June.
"We do believe we are able to avoid that. The most likely scenario is that we will say a moderate increase and it should not exceed 1,500 cases a day. That should be in May, the middle of May. Later on, we believe, vaccination will do its job that and we should see a significant drop in cases. Based on our existing estimates, it's really possible to achieve herd immunity in the first half of July," he said.
RISK DOWN BY 80 PERCENT FOR POST-COVID PEOPLE
Professor Aukse Mickiene, a professor from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences who also attended the meeting, cited the results of a Danish study which showed that the risk of contracting the coronavirus within six months after recovering from COVID-19 "goes down by more than 80 percent".
The possibility, however, drops to around 50 percent for over-60s.
Therefore, the professor stressed the need to vaccinate elder post-COVID people after six months.
Mickiene also acknowledged the fact that scientists have data yet on what is the re-infection risk for vaccinated people and also the risk of spreading the virus without feeling its clinical symptoms.