Traffic-free Tērbatas Street comes under scrutiny in Latvia

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Tērbatas Street events over the weekend have led to masses of people not complying with COVID-19 safety measures and thus received a lot of criticism, Latvian Television reported July 20.

From July 15, Tērbatas Street in the center of Riga was closed for traffic, giving place to pedestrians, vendors and events. On July 17, at the opening event, visitors did not follow the distancing rules imposed due to COVID-19, so the events were cancelled on Saturday. 

Organizers of the Tērbatas Street festival had to predict high interest and the risk of crowding, said Jurijs Perevoščikovs, expert at the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC). The State Police has also commenced administrative proceedings in order to assess the responsibility of the organizers.

State Police will now have to find out who is responsible for the crowding and non-compliance with safety measures.

The event was announced by the Directorate-General of the Center District, but the temporary administration of Riga has not yet named the responsible party who have not been able to model the development of the situation.

The temporary administration also doesn't name potential sanctions, promising to first assess the responsibilities and then take appropriate action.

“The fault of the organizers will be sought, observed in accordance with the procedures laid down in the Administrative Liability Law,” said Signe Bole, parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Interior.

Minister for Health Ilze Vinkele stated that one of the errors was the wrong format of the event and inability to predict that some people in the pedestrian street would want to stay and listen to the concert, some would want to move down the street.

One solution would have been to close a whole block, limiting the number of people at the event.

“This will be one of our recommendations to the organizers of urban festivals - we are learning from mistakes, obviously, in these circumstances, a concert in the street, along which people are also moving, cannot be organised safely,” the Minister said.

Signe Bole also pointed out that Riga municipal police responded to the security. 

“The State Police came to help when the municipal police felt they could not cope. (..) in this situation where the municipal police are asking for help, the State Police has not refused any help,” Bole said.

The temporary administration of Riga also promises to review the events planned.

Eyewitnesses who were present at the lively events on Friday night have said there had been too many visitors to the concert and that it was not possible to observe distance.

Riga citizen Līga Keino took a walk with her sons along Tērbatas Street on Friday. “I like driving a car there, and a month of closure is a lot, and it's really stupid, but the kids and I went off during the day, around 11-12, and I was excited about how green it was, how quiet it was,” Līga said.

She had gone to Tērbatas Street in the evening with her friend, but it was a different feeling. The sea of people drove them far away from the concert stage because they wanted to observe a 2-meter distance.

Līga said that every attempt to distance was seen by others as a free spot to stop.

On the other hand, waffle vendor Diana Sadovska admitted that “there are a lot of people, but everybody respects the distance, and we also have hand disinfection, and we saw here that girls also disinfect the tables from time to time”.

People also say that a pedestrian street in the center had been  long awaited but why exactly Tērbatas Street was chosen is not clear.

“I support this option, but I would say that Ģertrūdes Street could be more efficient –  transport is very difficult to move around, Tērbatas Street is frequently used, I also use it everyday, so now there's a bit of a problem, congestion,” said businessman Norberts Zalpēters. 

Latvian Television also observed that, despite the clear rules on the crossing of Tērbatas Street and the constant presence of police officers, dangerous situations between pedestrians and cars were building up anyway.

Meanwhile, the chief expert of Riga municipal police, Deins Millers said that the Riga municipal police were active during the event, the number of police officers in the event was adequate before additional forces were called to the concert, the police informed the people about the need to comply with the restrictions.

Millers acknowledged that during the concert, the 2-meter distance was not observed by people, and now the municipal police will evaluate how they will continue to work on such events. He said the problems were also caused by the fact that the flow of pedestrians was not separated from the concert visitors, and this should be done in the future, and that information materials and indications should be placed on concert sites.

He also said that by reducing restrictions, individual responsibility is increasing, the state is interfering less with people's lives, but the public needs to understand that they are more accountable.


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