Vaccinating to ensure 'continuity of the state'

Latvia was vaccinating its ministers and the President before anyone else to ensure 'continuity of the state' - this caused a sharp discussion about social equality.

In our last interview a year ago, you supported your government in Latvia for taking the right steps. Are you still convinced of their measures today?

This is a good question. Things were not that rosy in a long-term pandemic situation. We experienced a change of health ministers, and there were problems with purchasing vaccines - initially too few jabs were ordered, and that was a reason for changing the previous health minister and rotating some of the bureaucrats behind this unsuccessful process. Latvia was also vaccinating its ministers and the President before anyone else to ensure 'continuity of the state' - this caused a sharp discussion about social equality.
Furthermore, the whole vaccination process was rather bumpy - with the IT system not working properly, and lack of coordination despite a specially established Vaccination Bureau. Also, society's sentiments were partly negative with anti vax campaigns and lack of proper information in Russian for the Russian speaking society of Latvia. Eventually, though, the process started, and now anyone who wants to can get a vaccine. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 number is rising, and our epidemiologists warn that opening up social life can still be risky and troublesome.

A digital application developed by you and your team connects young and old people and makes everyday life easier during the corona pandemic. Do you think that older people and vulnerable groups have now become more digitally active?

Another good question. While I was the idea author behind #Paliecmajas or #StayAtHome movement, I did not take a very active part in later stages - the team behind it was working successfully - they got funding from the corporate sector and were awarded several prizes. Still - it is hard for people to ask for help, and there were not too many inquiries for help - the movement did not scale. However, it took a great shift and when unrest in Belarus started, it became a platform for civil society donations in order to help the Belarus democratic movement.

According to data, people trust the radio most among media - there is still a long way for older people to start actively using digital technologies. Use of tech goes hand in hand with purchasing power (being able to pay for smart devices and internet) and the inequality in society hinders the whole process of all of us getting more digitally active.

Are you involved in projects related to the pandemic right now?

I have been active in a group that tries to encourage people getting vaccinated via sharing science-based information about vaccines. The level of misinformation is high, and the modern media tech has given unprecedented rise to populism and anti-vax campaigns.

I also founded a new app for kids: that is intended to help them understand the amount of their daily added sugar intake. It has been reported by WHO that our eating habits worsened during pandemic, and measuring added sugar intake could be a good start to get back on track in terms of public health in general!

You are a technically savvy person. But be honest, have you experienced zoom fatigue as well? And what do you do about it?

From the very beginning I have been very cautious of participating in too many online meetings - I have managed to limit the number of them and have not experienced the famous Zoom fatigue. The conferences I have taken place all have been super inspirational and have had a multiplatform option, e.g., adding Discord, Miro, other platforms to Zoom, thus, better mimicking the dynamics that we would experience in real life. Lately, I have also discovered that I can take part in some of the webinars while taking my daily 10-15 km walk outside, and it works perfectly as Latvia is fortunate with a good coverage of mobile internet!

Interviewed for Alumniportal Deutschland: Admir Lleshi

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June 2021

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