Saeima tells government to allow spectators at World Ice Hockey Championships

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Following a lengthy debate in parliament May 20, lawmakers have decided to over-rule medical advice and a hitherto cautious stance by government, instructing the government to allow in-person spectators at World Ice Hockey Championship games.

The decision came just 24 hours before the IIHF tournament is due to face-off with a match between Latvia and Canada.

The Saeima instructed the government to adopt the relevant regulations after narrowly backing a proposal from the New Conservative Party to allow those who have completed a course of vaccination or who have recovered from actual Covid-19 infection to attend the indoor games in person.

The Saeima instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to immediately develop the procedure for allowing attendance for people meeting three different sets of criteria:

  • at least 14 days after completion of a full course of vaccination with vaccines registered by the European Medicines Agency, an equivalent regulator or recognized by the World Health Organization,
  • 22 to 90 days after the first dose of Vaxzevria produced by AstraZeneca or immediately after the second dose.
  • documented evidence of Covid-19 recovery (from self-isolation until day 180 after a positive Covid-19 test).

48 deputies voted in favor of this decision, 40 were against, and one abstained.

However, the decision is unlikely to result in suddenly full stands. For a start, relatively few people in Latvia have completed a course of vaccination, and a large number of those that have are medical professionals. Whether they will want to wave flags indoors at ice hockey matches in the current climate is doubtful.

As regards foreign fans from the 15 other countries taking part in the tournament, they could technically attend but still have to meet strict entry criteria to get to Latvia, and it remains unclear exactly what documents in what languages they will have to bring in order to convince officials and security guards they are entitled to purchase tickets and sit in the stands without representing an epidemiological risk. 

The Saeima move may have more impact as the tournament progresses and such issues are decided -- provided the epidemiological situation does not worsen in the meantime and force lawmakers into an embarrassing U-turn.

The organizers of the championship emphasized that they are ready for "plan B" but that Latvia's game against Canada, which is due tomorrow, will definitely take place with empty stands. At best, fans may be able to enter arenas from Monday, explained Edgars Buncis, representing the organizers of the World Ice Hockey Championship.

Infectologist Uga Dumpis, said he was baffled by Saeima's gamble and called on people to refrain from going to hockey arenas. It is in Latvia's interests to achieve a rapid reduction of the disease, not to prolong the agony of the disease, he said.

"As a person working in a hospital, I don't understand. Hospitals are full of patients and it's hard to imagine how such an event can be conducted safely. Antigen tests are not always reliable. This is not understandable at a time when children are unable to attend school," Dumpis said.

"We are currently in the top five in Europe in terms of the number of cases and are far behind in vaccination. Yes, there are concerts in the Netherlands, but there are only a few and there are more vaccinated people," said Dumpis.

The IIHF World Championships will take place from May 21 until June 6.

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