Latvia's Covid vaccine procurement case reaches court

Court proceedings are under way against the former Minister of Health Ilze Viņķele, in which she has been accused of inaction in the position as a state official. On Monday, June 19, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš was among those testifying, Latvian Television reported.

The events relating to this criminal case took place at the end of 2020 and early 2021, at the time the second wave of Covid-19 had hit Latvia. In November 2020, the European Union (EU) offered Member States to purchase vaccines via centralized procurement. As it turned out later, the Ministry of Health, headed by Ilze Viņķele at the time, decided to purchase fewer doses than were available to Latvia, and the Minister for Health is also accused of not ensuring the timely development of a vaccination strategy – where and how to vaccinate, who would do it, and where vaccines would be stored.

A few years have passed since then. Prime Minister Kariņš said he had already forgotten some details but that at the time the decisions were taken in a confusing environment – "almost war".

He suggested that Viņķele, who was not a doctor herself, relied on expert advice when deciding on the amount of vaccines to be purchased.

It was only later that the Estonian Foreign Minister contacted his Latvian counterpart and expressed his surprise that Latvia was purchasing fewer doses than were available, that it came to light that there was a significantly higher number of vaccines available to Latvia.

Since the Prime Minister and Viņķele did not see eye to eye on the issue of vaccination, he finally decided to dismiss her. This happened at the beginning of 2021; shortly afterwards, Daniels Pavļuts took up the Health Minister portfolio.

The court has not finished hearing the case yet. The former health minister believes that with as much information as was available in mid-2020, she did the best she could.

The next hearing for the trial of the criminal case is scheduled for September.

In accordance with the relevant Article of the Criminal Law, the inaction of a state official can be punished by  up to 3 years in jail or by temporary deprivation of liberty, by probation, or by community service or a fine.

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