Smaller stores will not open next week after all in Latvia

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The government postponed making a decision on the re-opening small stores in Latvia at its Cabinet meeting February 25.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet conceptually agreed to allow outlets with a single entrance and of no more than 300 square meters to resume face-to-face sales as of March 1, deferring the decision until Thursday.

However, after nearly two hours of discussion on Thursday, the government postponed making a decision on the issue again. The Cabinet will decide on the reopening of shops most likely next week, when additional criteria and conditions have been prepared on how shops can resume operations in the ongoing pandemic.

The Ministry of Economics (EM) proposed to allow small shops with an area of up to 300 square meters to resume work as of March 9, subject to strict safe trading requirements. These would include a maximum of 12 visitors to shops at the same time.

Ministry of Economics State Secretary Edmunds Valantis told Latvian Radio that, according to EM estimates, there are 8,800 such shops with an area of up to 300 square meters in Latvia, with a total of nearly 16,400 employees working in these shops.

However, the Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said that the incidence of Covid-19 in Latvia is decreasing very slowly and inconsistently, so easing any restrictions should be seriously considered. 

"The issue of opening small shops was removed from the government's agenda today so that the Ministry of Health, together with the Inter-Institutional Coordination Steering Group, could develop concrete, clear, comprehensible and business-predictable criteria for economic operators to resume safe operation of Covid-19," said Economics Minister Jānis Vitenbergs said.

Small shops awaited the government decision. Some have adapted to the circumstances and have moved online, or have taken advantage of other remote retail methods.

Latvian Radio spoke to several representatives of small shops who were looking forward to resuming their operations, but at the same time said that, until the decision has been taken, they would not believe it.

“We've been looking forward to this decision very much... we have all practiced and practiced to meet the requirements, and this has become everyday. Wearing a mask, washing and disinfecting hands and surfaces. Just keeping the correct distance has already become a habit. I think there would be no problem observing this,” said Jana Lindberga, chief executive of BonBon Shoes.

“We have never had crowds in the shop and we believe that small shops will now be significantly less crowded than food and gardening shops. In our view, it is very easy to control the flow of people. The rooms are small, we can let people in, if needed. We just want to work,” said kids' clothing store manager Toms Lange.

As previously reported by LSM, on February 24 state President Egils Levits warned the government that any premature relaxation of anti-Covid measures would have serious consequences both for society as a whole and for ministers themselves. 

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