Saeima okays fines for not using a mask in public places

The Latvian Saeima on October 29 approved the imposition of penalties for non-compliance with the rules on using facemasks in public places as part of the coronavirus pandemic response strategy.

The relevant laws were passed in two readings in a single day, a fact which itself drew ire from the handful of Saeima deputies opposed to the measures, who argued that due process was not being observed with regard to a civil liberties issue centered on an individual's freedom to choose whether to don a mask or not. Others argued against the medical utility of masks, despite an absence of any obvious epidemiological expertise.

The amendments to the Covid-19 Infection Spread Management Law, were recognized as urgent, allowing the express legislative effort. They provide for the imposition of a warning or a fine of up to 50 euros for non-use of the mouth and nose mask in the cases specified in regulations. 

The relevant norms will enter into force on November 20 this year. By that time local governments must ensure that mouth and nose covers are available to persons on low incomes. 

The annotation of the draft law explains that the changes are necessary to ensure that persons fulfill the obligation to use mouth and nose masks in certain cases. At present, the Cabinet of Ministers has set a requirement to use mouth and nose covers for passengers on public transport (except for children under 13 years of age), and in a wide range of public places such as shops, offices and entertainment venues.

The law also means court proceedings will be able to take place primarily by videoconferencing, except in cases classed as pertainign to state secrets. The amendment also clarifies cases in which a person, if there is a reasonable suspicion that he or she is under the influence of alcohol, may be taken to a medical institution for a medical examination. 

The law enters into force on the day following its promulgation by the President.

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