Latvian Health Minister: We score 8 out of 10 for coronavirus preparedness

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Latvian Health Minister Ilze Viņķele spoke to LSM's English language service March 3 as she hurried from a cabinet meeting to her ministry as she continues to coordinate the national effort to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Asked how satisfied she was with efforts in Latvia, she said:

"I'm quite satisfied. We've worked very hard. This is an unusual and unexpected situation, but on a scale of 1 to 10 I would say our preparedness is around 8."

The cabinet meeting from which she was leaving had just approved 2.6 million euros' worth of additional funding for materials necessary to fight the disease.

"That is for individual masks, respirators, disinfection liquids and mobile ventilation systems," Viņķele said.

Of this amount, 1.7 million euros has been allocated from contingency funds and is intended to cover the cost of purchasing the necessary personal protective equipment (including respirators, goggles and waterproof overalls) for family doctors, medical institutions, the Emergency Medical Service and the Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Financial resources are also needed to provide laboratory diagnostics (reagents and laboratory equipment), medical equipment (artificial lung ventilation equipment and non-invasive ventilation equipment) and medical treatments for viral infection. In addition, Riga Eastern Clinical University Hospital needs funding for the purchase of an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation facility to provide treatment services to patients with COVID-19 infection.

In the press briefing at which this was announced, Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said it was important that any cases of infection are contained within Latvia's borders so that Latvia does not become a source of re-infection for other countries, and Viņķele told LSM what this meant in practical terms.

"We are monitoring the situation, especially in hospitals where there may be patients with unknown causes of pneumonia, for example. They will be tested and we are looking for best case scenarios around Europe, and we are discussing cases on an everyday basis with our colleagues and epidemiologists from the European Disease Control Centre," Viņķele said.

"Now I must go to the ministry for an urgent teleconference with the World Health Organization," she said, adding with a suitably coronavirus-aware afterthought:  "A teleconference means you don't have to travel." 

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