Latvia health minister fired in vaccine row

Latvian minister of health Ilze Vinkele in Brussels on 6 March 2020. [Council Newsroom]

Latvia’s prime minister on Tuesday (5 January) fired his health minister in a row over coronavirus vaccination policy, straining ties within the governing coalition.

Krisjanis Karins said the Baltic state was “struggling with the consequences of not having a clear and comprehensible plan of action”.

Latvia has focused its vaccination plan mainly on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has so far not been authorised in the European Union.

Government opponents have criticised the slow start of Latvia’s vaccination campaign and the choice to purchase a relatively small amount of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which have been authorised by the European Medicines Agency.

EU member Latvia, which has a population of 1.9 million, had some of the lowest infection rates in Europe during the first wave of the virus.

But it has been hit hard by the second wave, with hospitals operating at near maximum capacity.

Health Minister Ilze Vinkele accepted the prime minister’s request for her to step down but lashed out during an online press conference on vaccination plans.

“The prime minister is trying to shift his own responsibility for the whole Covid crisis management,” she told reporters.

“Our vaccination plan is even more detailed than those adopted by Estonia and Germany,” she said, adding that under her plan 82% of Latvian residents would be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Karins asked Defence Minister Artis Pabriks to temporarily take on the role of health minister but he refused.

“In this Covid-19 crisis I think that duties of the health minister must be carried out by Karins himself!” Pabriks said on Twitter.

Karins then called on the Vinkele’s liberal Development/For! party to find a new candidate for health minister, drawing criticism from his coalition partners.

“He should not dismiss Vinkele while Karins himself, as the prime minister, does not have a better candidate, which he apparently does not have, since he leaves finding the candidate to the Development/For! party,” MP Eriks Pucens of KPV party told LETA newswire.

Latvia’s political scene is highly fragmented.

The cabinet consists of five parliamentary groups spanning eight political parties plus 10 independent lawmakers.

It came to power after three months of negotiations and two unsuccessful attempts to form a government following elections in 2018.

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