CITIZENS’ CORNER: [First Hand Account] Covid Pass in Lithuania and throughout Europe: How recent vaccine mandate laws have upended my family’s life
[Time to read: 16 min]
I want to share the situation which my family and I are now facing because of Covid Pass restrictions.
We live in the small European country of Lithuania. In the last few months, strict Covid Pass restrictions have been introduced which represent a fundamental transformation in society.
In this article, I’ll describe the details of how the Covid Pass works in my country and how it affects my family. As a start, we’re banned from shopping centers, non-essential stores, and restaurants. And my wife and I were both were suspended from our jobs without pay.
But as I’ll explain, it’s not just Lithuania. Covid Pass restrictions are being imposed throughout Europe. By my count, at least 14 European countries now have different types of domestic restrictions based on the Covid Pass. And every country has travel restrictions within Europe based on the Covid Pass.
There hasn’t been much reporting in English-language media about what has happened. So I thought a detailed first-hand account would be useful.
My family, my country
Lithuania is a small EU country of 2.8 million people, located on the Baltic Sea, bordering Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Latvia.
Currently, 69% of the population over age 12 are Covid vaccinated.
My wife and I have two children. She is pregnant with our third child.
Neither my wife nor I are Covid vaccinated.
The Opportunity Pass
Lithuania introduced a Covid Pass for domestic use at the end of May, 2021. It’s called the “Opportunity Pass” (Galimybiu pasas in our language). It’s for all citizens and foreign residents aged 16 and over.
The Opportunity Pass allows you the opportunity to participate in society. Without it, you don’t have opportunity: your rights are restricted.
You can get the Opportunity Pass in 3 ways:
- If you’ve been vaccinated (approved vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, J&J).
- A negative PCR test. Valid for 48 hours after the sample is collected.
- Proof of having had Covid in the last 7 months. You must have had a positive PCR or antigen test result confirmed at the time by your family doctor and entered into your official medical records.
In the middle of August, our country added a fourth way to get the Opportunity Pass: “a sufficient level of antibodies” based on serological immunoassay for COVID-19 IgG antibodies or total antibodies test. Valid for 60 days after a test.
The Opportunity Pass is linked to your medical records in the national health system, all of which is organized under your national ID number.
The government app has an illustration showing the fun you’ll have participating in the opportunities of society if you have the Opportunity Pass:
There is no illustration of people who do not have the Pass.
Restrictions for people without the Opportunity Pass
A law was passed on August 16 authorizing increased restrictions against people who do not have a valid Opportunity Pass. The restrictions were phased in over several weeks. All are now in effect since September 13.
Some of the restrictions include:
- You cannot visit any cafes or restaurants.
- You cannot enter any non-essential stores.
- You cannot enter any shopping center or large store.
- You cannot receive beauty services (hair, nails, salons, etc).
- You cannot use repair services which last longer than 15 minutes.
- You cannot enter public indoor spaces.
- You cannot enter a fitness center, gym, or sauna.
- You cannot attend outdoor events which have more than 500 people.
- You cannot sit and read in libraries. You may only use the library to pick up and return books.
- You cannot travel by train. [The government temporarily rescinded this restriction for now because it’s unworkable and causing chaos.]
- You cannot enter banks or insurance agencies unless the purpose is to receive pensions or social benefits where the service lasts no more than 15 minutes.
- Students cannot enter university without the Pass. [Because many students are not vaccinated, the government announced a grace period: until October, students may take free (i.e., government-paid) Covid tests to give them time to vaccinate. Starting in October, students must have the Opportunity Pass].
- You cannot visit patients in medical facilities or senior care/residential homes. The only exception terminally-ill patients and children under 14 years of age if the doctor gives advance permission.
- Regarding medical care:
— You may receive emergency care without the Opportunity Pass.
— For scheduled inpatient medical care, you must have the Covid Pass or Covid certificates.
— For outpatient services, the medical care must be conducted “in a safe environment” and will require testing “depending on the epidemiological situation”.
Restrictions: what do they mean in practice?
There are many more rules, with lots of convoluted and sometimes conflicting provisions. And it’s even more confusing because bureaucrats revise the rules almost daily. Here’s how it currently works in practice if you don’t have the Opportunity Pass:
- For shopping, you are only allowed to shop in small stores (<1500 m2) which have street entrances and whose main activity is to sell food, veterinary goods, pharmaceuticals, glasses and contact lenses, or farming supplies. You may not enter stores which mainly sell any other products. You may not enter any shopping mall. You may not enter large stores, including supermarkets.
- For eating and drinking, you cannot visit any restaurant, cafe, or bar. This includes all indoor areas and most outdoor areas (the details are complicated; see separate section below).
- For transportation, local city buses do not require the Opportunity Pass. But political leaders have indicated all forms of public transportation might require the Pass if they can figure out how to make it workable on busy buses and trains.
- For medical care, inpatient services require the Covid Pass. For outpatient medical care (e.g., doctors’ offices, specialist clinics, dental offices), medical facilities may allow a patient to enter who does not have the Opportunity Pass. But in practice, many clinics require the Opportunity Pass except for emergency situations.
In my area, outpatient medical facilities require the Covid Pass or certifications. Several days ago, my family was turned away from a medical facility because we did not have the Covid Pass. The medical facility offered us the option to come back if we returned with a negative PCR test. In a separate incident a few days later, we went to the dental office we’ve attended for years for an appointment for one of my children, but we were asked to leave when the staff discovered that I don’t have the Opportunity Pass.
Employers may mandate that employees have the Opportunity Pass. Each company and industry is setting its own standards regarding if and how to implement the mandate.
In the case of my wife and myself, we work in different industries and have different occupations. But both our employers have separately created the same policy. People without the Opportunity Pass won’t actually be fired, because that would create many legal issues, obligations, and unemployment benefits. Instead, employees are suspended without pay.
In our case, both my wife and I were suspended from our jobs without pay on September 13. We are allowed to return when we comply with the mandate to present a valid Covid Pass.
Using the Opportunity Pass
The Covid Pass is in the form of a QR code.
To use the Opportunity Pass, you show the QR code to a “verifier” (guard or staff at restaurants, stores, building, etc). The verifier scans your QR code. The scanner confirms that the Pass is authentic, verifies your safe health status, and displays your name and date of birth. You then show your ID to the verifier to confirm that the information in the Pass matches your ID and that the Pass therefore belongs to you.
Those who don’t use smartphones may go to a government office or pharmacy to get a paper printout of the QR code. Government data shows that about one third of people use a paper Covid Pass instead of a phone.
The rules must be enforced by all private and public entities which are affected, e.g. restaurants, stores, buildings, medical facilities, etc. Government inspectors will check to ensure compliance. Citizens may also report any business which does not comply. Any business which does not properly enforce the Opportunity Pass is fined.
Here’s how it looks in practice (pictures from 13-Sep-21 at the entrances of Lithuania’s largest shopping mall and a large supermarket).
At the entrance to shopping malls and stores are guards who check the Opportunity Pass of every person who enters:
People queue in line to enter:
Large shopping centers have a machine scanner. When people reach the machine, they scan their Opportunity Pass. If the machine flashes a green light and beeps to signal that the Pass is valid, the guard allows that person to enter:
The machines are currently only installed in larger shopping centers. In other businesses, the guard uses a phone app to verify the QR code on the Opportunity Pass:
Both the machine and the phone app can also scan the paper printout for people who do not have a smartphone:
The guards in larger businesses have been specially trained. Said the head of the Lithuanian Retailers Association: “This is a new profession: Opportunity Pass Verifier. This is not a security guard. The Opportunity Passport Verifier staff must have been trained and have a type of license.”
People who do not have a valid Opportunity Pass may not enter. At larger shopping malls, police are present to handle complaints from non-Pass holders:
At stores without police, workers handle the complaints. A representative for a major supermarket chain commented: “There have been conflicts because some people aren’t happy with the new rules… Workers checking the Passes find it psychologically difficult to deal with all that negativity.”
Restaurants, cafes, bars
Restaurants and bars also strictly enforce the Opportunity Pass. A small cafe doesn’t have the manpower of a huge business to put guards at the door to stop you from entering. But staff are strict in asking for your documents before you order. For example, I’ve confirmed that every restaurant and cafe in my area requires the Opportunity Pass and refuses service to non-Pass holders.
Most enforcement is done by private businesses, but government inspectors also conduct spot checks. For example, a local restaurant owner told me that inspectors unexpectedly entered his place last week. Using a scanning app, the inspectors went from person to person to verify that everyone in the restaurant – customers and staff – had a valid Opportunity Pass and matching ID. Fortunately for the restaurant owner, he’s strict about barring non-Pass holders, so the inspectors found that every person did indeed have a valid Opportunity Pass. If anyone didn’t, the owner would have been fined.
(The owner told me this story when we bumped into each other on the street. We’re friendly with each other, but I’m no longer allowed to enter his restaurant to chat, so we could only speak standing outside.)
Outdoor seats, indoor toilets
The law of August 16 bans people without a Covid Pass from all restaurants and cafes, both indoors and outdoors.
On September 10, the government modified the restriction so that people without a Pass may sit at outdoor cafes. They are required to wear masks and are limited to maximum 5 people at one table.
The law prohibits non-Pass holders from entering any adjacent buildings to use the toilet. So effectively, people without the Pass are banned from using indoor bathrooms at these places.
The rule caused problems because venues had to monitor bathroom access to ensure toilets are only used by people with a Covid Pass.
Stating that the government “is ready for dialogue“, the Health Ministry announced on September 15 that non-Pass holders will be permitted to use indoor toilets. People without the Covid Pass are required to move directly to the bathroom without stopping at any other place indoors, and must properly wear facemasks during the toilet trip.
It’s a moot point anyway because the weather has become too cold for most people to sit outside.
Coercion to vaccinate
The government contends that the vaccine is not mandatory because you can still get the Opportunity Pass if you have immunity from infection or if you do tests.
However, it’s a fig-leaf to mask the pressure to vaccinate.
Our government pays lip service to immunity from prior infection, but in practice makes it difficult to use as a basis to receive the Opportunity Pass. Officials explain that they’ve made it burdensome because they don’t want citizens to purposefully infect themselves in order to avoid vaccination.
As for the testing option, it is similarly designed to be difficult. Before the introduction of the Covid Pass regime, people could get tests for free at various places through the government health plan. Now, it’s mandatory that testing for the Opportunity Pass must be done at a private lab or medical institute – no mobile labs or home tests – and be paid privately. A negative result is valid for only 48 hours from the time of the sample. So you would have to do a test every 1-2 days in order to live your life freely. The money and time make that difficult for the vast majority of people.
Additionally, if you get a positive test result, even if you have no symptoms, you and all your contacts must isolate for 10 days, which for many people means the loss of income from work.
Only PCR tests allowed
Our government mandated that only a PCR test is acceptable to get the Pass, rather than the cheaper rapid antigen test. Government leaders explicitly created this requirement in order to increase the burden of testing.
The burden of the PCR test is the time and money. Labs offer PCR tests for 60-75 eur and give results in 12-24 hours. The government only recognizes the test as valid for 48 hours from when the swab sample is taken, not from when you receive the result from the lab. With the wait to get the result, this means you would need a test almost every day in order to maintain a valid Covid Pass and continue your life without restrictions.
That number of tests would cost more than 1000 eur in lab fees per person per month, plus the time of going to the lab.
The government explicitly created this burden of time and money, as well as the risk of being forced into isolation, in order to promote vaccination instead of testing.
There’s been a lot of controversy about the PCR-only requirement because it’s obviously vindictive, so the Cabinet has indicated that they are changing the rules to also allow the cheaper antigen test.
But whatever form of a test they allow, the intention is clear: the government is putting maximum pressure on us to get vaccinated. Our freedom has become conditional on vaccination or daily testing.
We oppose this coercion.
Why don’t we want the Pass?
My wife and I are not opposed to Covid vaccinations. Vaccination can be beneficial for many people. It’s a personal medical decision which should be made by each individual in consultation with their doctor.
What we strongly oppose are vaccine mandates. The government should not force us to undergo a medical treatment against our will. Our rights as citizens should not be restricted because we do not undergo this medical treatment.
Medical exemptions: only allergies
We oppose the Opportunity Pass out of principle. We believe that Covid-vaccine mandates are wrong in all circumstances.
But in our own case, we have a further issue.
My wife has a long-term progressive disease. Based on data from both the vaccine trials and countries which publish real-world side-effect statistics, we are worried that the vaccine could trigger serious side effects in the short-term, or worsen her condition in the long-term.
Additionally, she’s pregnant with our third child.
We discussed our concerns with the specialist doctor who has treated her for years. The doctor researched the topic and reached the opinion that she is at increased risk of severe adverse effects due to her condition. We presented to the authorities a note written by the doctor detailing my wife’s situation and the conclusion that vaccination is therefore not worth the risk for her.
Our request was rejected. My wife will not receive an exemption from the Opportunity Pass restrictions. We received no explanation. As far as we know, there is no appeal.
We don’t know what happened in her case. But in general, our government is opposed to medical exemptions. The authorities have announced that they only allow medical exemptions in cases where a certified allergist doctor finds, through extensive documented testing, that a person is severely allergic to the substance within the vaccine (anaphylactic reactions). In an interview, an official of the Ministry of Health stated that such an allergy is the only allowable exemption and the Ministry dislikes “the tendency to use medical excuses as a justification to not vaccinate“.
When Covid vaccines began in December 2020, political leaders in Lithuania emphasized that vaccination was voluntary.
As vaccination rates increased in spring 2021 and development began on the Covid Pass, mainstream political views changed. Now, the consensus among all major politicians is that unvaccinated people should not have equal rights.
Here are some representative quotes said by our leaders in the last two months:
- “People who do not get vaccinated are a threat to our health, to the country’s economy, to business, and to human life.”
- “I urge you to avoid associating with the unvaccinated, because associating with the deliberately unvaccinated is the same as getting into a car with a drunk driver.”
- “If you don’t get vaccinated, then go prepare your grave.“
- “The Opportunity Pass will allow us to live as freely as can be possible during a global pandemic… The Opportunity Pass is the only way to not shut down our economy and to let people enjoy their favorite restaurants, cafes, and shops.”
- “To not vaccinate yourself means that you will spread it, because anyone who does not vaccinate is a potential spreader. Not vaccinating yourself, and encouraging others to not vaccinate, are not yet crimes. We are – still – gentle and polite. But therefore, we suffer because we do not stop the unvaccinated with the force of law and order. However, it can be done. We are at war. Let us reflect among ourselves and the coalition government on whether the state is really doing everything it can to fight the virus that is the anti-vaxxers.”
In a publicity move, the Economics Minister (left-most in picture below) visited cafes and bars to promote the Opportunity Pass. She wrote on her Facebook page:
- “With 634 cases per day, it was impossible to imagine recently we could have ‘normal life’. Yet today, we can enjoy the autumn and return to many of our activities without any restrictions… Our goal is that vaccines and the Opportunity Pass will help keep businesses open and operating. I am very pleased that businesses are helping us in this difficult hour.”
Increasing restrictions. Re-vaccination.
The number of positive test results in Lithuania has risen sharply in the last month.
The pattern this year is the same as 2020: the number of new positive tests reached a low with the peak of summer heat in early July, then started rising as the weather became colder in late July and August.
Hospitalizations and deaths are rising in a similar pattern.
Government statistics show that from August 27 to September 15, 172 people died of Covid. Of them, 35, or 20%, were fully vaccinated. The other 80% were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated; the data does not show the breakdown.
To fight the rising numbers, officials launched booster injections. Under the “re-vaccination program“, people will get a third injection of Pfizer or Moderna six months after their last injection, starting with seniors and then progressing to the entire population.
As they roll out the re-vaccination injections, leaders have discussed further measures in the last week:
- The President: “Compulsory, or forced, vaccination is the sole possibility if we want a smooth process to face the challenge of the burden imposed by the Delta variant“.
- The Prime Minister: “Cases are rising. Large numbers of people chose not to be vaccinated, which is why they died from this disease. The government gave people time to get vaccinated. But the pace of vaccination slowed down. Therefore, we had to impose restrictions unfortunately. These restrictions are a quarantine of the unvaccinated… Additional restrictions may be needed, but for now I hope to avoid this.“
- The Vice-Minister for Health: “We are likely to start the fourth and fifth booster shots in several months.“
To further encourage vaccination, our government is drafting a law to deny sickness benefits to people who have not been vaccinated against Covid and become sick from the virus. Currently, workers pay a mandatory health insurance fee. This funds a sickness benefit program which pays 62% of salary if a worker becomes seriously ill or incapacitated. But there are several limited exceptions: a person receives nothing if the sickness is the result of alcohol or drug abuse, fraud, or criminal activity. The new law will add refusal to get Covid-vaccinated as another reason for an ill person to not receive benefits.
Attempts to circumvent the Pass
Compliance is extremely high. The government reported that 90% of eligible citizens – 1.5 million people – have a valid Covid Pass as of September 17.
But some people try to find alternatives.
Because of long queues of people waiting to enter stores, guards only infrequently verify that a person’s ID matches the Covid Pass. News reports indicate that non-Pass holders have taken advantage by borrowing the QR code of other people in order to illegally gain entrance to stores.
For example, on September 15, a 49-year old man tried to enter a supermarket in the capital city of Vilnius. The guard at the entrance became suspicious because the name on the scanned QR code was Lithuanian, but (as reported by police) the man was an “Asian-looking” foreigner who did not speak the language. Police were called. The man said he is a construction worker and had wanted to buy food in the morning, so he had surreptitiously photographed the QR code of his boss at the construction site. The man was fined 5,000 eur. The police issued a press release.
Other reports describe people who bribe doctors to fake the vaccination – pouring the vaccine into the garbage – for 250-500 eur. The government treats all these cases as crimes and is investigating.
In our country, opinion polls show that 70-80% of people support vaccine mandates and the exclusion of unvaccinated people from various aspects of society.
There is no unified opposition to restrictions.
The only socially-acceptable opposition is to nitpick about the details of each particular regulation. That’s led to some minor loosening of rules, e.g. giving university students an extra few weeks to get vaccinated.
But in general, there isn’t much mainstream condemnation of the entire Covid Pass regime as a fundamental violation of human rights. Voices of principled opposition are rarely featured in our country’s media. Opposition is usually ignored by the mainstream, and when mentioned, those who oppose mandates are caricatured by both the government and the media as far-right, anti-LGBT, conspiracy theorists, and neo-Nazis.
This social stigmatization of opponents works.
Opponents of vaccine mandates are muted with the label of “anti-vaxxers”, which in our post-Soviet society is seen as a person who is irrationally fatalistic, mystical, illiterate, selfish, anti-modern, and anti-science.
That’s driven away most mainstream people who might oppose the restrictions on principle. And that leaves as opponents mainly rabble-rousers and kooks that mainstream people don’t want to be associated with. Which makes mainstream opponents even more queasy to join. Which leaves even crazier people as the sole opposition. And so on, in a vicious spiral to the bottom.
Given the political situation in our country, the result is that many of the loudest voices against the Covid Pass – the ones who dare to speak publicly – are people who explicitly conflate opposition to vaccine mandates with anti-LGBT views. So the few protests which have occurred against the Covid Pass have devolved into a battle over gay rights. Which – again – drives away mainstream people who would otherwise join in opposition to the Covid Pass.
As an example of the absurdity of the situation, the only major politician against most Covid restrictions, the founder of the opposition party Labor (pictured), is such a nut that he and his children started selling mineral water that he claims gives you immunity against the virus:
The government and media seize on this to characterize all opposition to Covid restrictions as loonybin cases like him. Or crazed far-right anti-LGBT activists. Or anti-Semites. Etc. And that successfully stigmatizes opposition even further so mainstream people think there is no basis for principled opposition to vaccine mandates.
The result is a wedge that has cleaved society in two: the Good and the Bad. Covid policy in our country has become a signal that you’re Good and do not belong to the inferior group of mystical, crazed people.
1980s: Fight for freedom. 2021: apathy.
There is not much protest in our country against the vaccine mandates. In France and Holland, there have been large demonstrations by diverse groups. Not enough to stop the restrictions, but at least something.
But in our country, protests have been small, dominated by anti-LGBT activists, and limited in many ways by government restrictions and police.
We’re not unusual among the European countries in the apathy and lack of protest of the broad population. In the last 18 months, it’s been rare in most of Europe to see massive, broad-based opposition to Covid measures.
That’s surprised me very much. It’s staggering to me that large numbers of people, in my country and throughout Europe, don’t seem to care much about individual rights and liberty.
The contrast with recent history is stark. In my country, we were occupied for decades by the Soviet Union. We fought for – and won – a revolution of independence 30 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people took real risks to oppose the oppressive communist regime. In the most famous incident, in August 1989, 30% of the entire population of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia joined hands to form a human chain of 675 kilometers in support of freedom and independence from the authoritarian Soviet occupation.
But now, three decades later, our current population is apathetic about losing freedoms which the previous generation fought for.
Covid restrictions are introducing a more authoritarian form of government in Europe. The Prime Minister of our fellow Baltic state of Estonia explicitly warned of the danger in June this year: “What we have seen in this Covid crisis, this urge for a strong hand or an authoritarian way of governing, is deep in our societies, even in some countries you would never believe.” Mexico’s president has similarly warned many times this year about Europe’s increasing Covid authoritarianism.
Yet few people in my country take a stand in opposition.
We battled against the government-led propaganda and “Show me your documents!” authoritarianism of the USSR, only to now acquiesce meekly to a new regime of media-led propaganda and technocratic, fear-driven health authoritarianism of “Show me your Covid QR Code!“.
Opposition to the Covid Pass isn’t treated here as a political or philosophical view which people can disagree about. Instead, it’s considered to be an opinion so dangerous that it must be banned.
It’s sad to me that we’ve reached that situation here in Lithuania, of all places. Under the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1990, political dissent was suppressed, news was censored, and neighbors spied on neighbors (the image below shows a 1972 protest against Soviet repression and censorship).
Yet now, we’ve returned to a regime of censorship. It’s encouraged by the government, but – at least so far – it’s not directly enforced by them. Instead, the main force is a social movement that oppresses dissent so much that people censor themselves.
The combined effects of the social environment, media, and groupthink are powerful. In the spring of last year, it made adults terrified of getting Covid. In the winter of last year, it whipped many people into being deeply scared for their children to get Covid.
But 18 months into this crisis, people now are more afraid of the social stigma than of the virus itself. Outright bans are often unnecessary because most normal, not-wacky people who oppose the policies censor themselves.
Othering: Public shaming and death wishes
Many people go even further, delivering effusive praise for the Covid Pass regime and hatred of anyone opposed.
On Facebook, many Lithuanians I see have posted a sticker on their profile – “Educated. Vaccinated.” – together with long posts raging: “we would be finished with this pandemic if only the stupid anti-vaxxers would either get vaccinated or die!“.
There’s no opposition to these messages. Most people just push ‘like‘ and cheer on the death wishes. Anyone opposed presumably says nothing out of fear of the mob. That’s certainly what I do.
At my work, we had to indicate whether we have the Opportunity Pass. The next day, a list was posted publicly of everyone’s Pass status. Turns out I’m the only one in my area who doesn’t have the Pass. The only reason to post that list was to shame me.
The public shaming worked. Most colleagues avoided me afterwards.
But one colleague pulled me aside. Whispering in my ear (literally), she told me that she thinks the Opportunity Pass is a crazy violation of human rights and despises the fact that she was forced to vaccinate against her will, particularly because she plans to have another child soon. But she feels that she doesn’t dare oppose it, because she already has one child, is scared for her job, and needs to shop and otherwise continue life.
We’ve re-entered into a world where you have to whisper to talk about your opposition to government policies. Where you have to scan your documents to eat in a restaurant. Where you’re suspended from work without pay for non-compliance. And where fear compels you to undergo medical treatments you don’t want.
What to do?
My wife and I don’t know what to do.
We’ve never been involved or interested in politics. We don’t like to fight. And we don’t want publicity. We like our privacy.
Can’t talk to officials.
I’ve tried to meet with government officials to explain our situation.
However, they won’t meet with us because we’re not vaccinated.
The Opportunity Pass is required to enter the offices where they work. As non-holders of the Pass, my wife and I aren’t allowed to go inside to meet them.
I suggested we could instead meet outside. But they won’t agree to go outside to meet us.
So we have no way to meet the relevant government officials to discuss our situation.
No legal options.
We have no chance in court if we sue. The judges in our country support the vaccine mandates. There is some judiciary review about the details of certain restrictions – for example, if it’s legal under current law to cut off sickness benefits of the unvaccinated. But by and large, the court system finds that the mandates do not violate any rights.
As for higher appeals, our only option would be the EU courts, but we think we don’t have any chance there either. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in a case in April this year by 16-1 that obligatory vaccination is legal in democratic society if national authorities determine that mandates accomplish “a pressing social need”.
Constant tests to maintain freedom?
In theory, we could do tests every day in a private lab in order to maintain our freedoms. But in our case, it won’t work.
We can’t afford to do PCR tests every 1-2 days. Together, my wife and I earn about 3000 eur per month. We calculate that the testing for both of us necessary to have the Pass for workdays only, not on weekends, would cost around 1500 eur per month, or half our income. Plus more than an hour of time each day to go to the lab, wait, do the test, and leave.
A change in the rules to allow antigen tests reduces our cost to 500 eur per month. That amount is on the limit for us: we could afford it if we reduce our food budget, cease savings, and eliminate most expenditures other than housing, utilities, taxes/fees, and necessary transportation.
We’ve thought of moving countries to somewhere less restrictive, but it would be difficult.
There aren’t many countries to choose from.
Since my wife and I both speak English and want our children to learn the language, the restriction-free parts of the U.S. might be a possibility. But we can’t because we don’t have visas for America.
Within Europe, most countries have restrictions, so a move wouldn’t improve our situation.
The main restriction-free countries in Europe now are Denmark and Sweden. As EU citizens, we could legally move there and live in those places. But it would be difficult. Both my wife and I have jobs which are tied to our country and language, so if we move, we’d have to start from zero to find work in a country where we have no job skills, no connections, and no knowledge of the language. Additionally, Denmark and Sweden are expensive countries; our savings would only pay for the moving expenses and the first 2-3 months, so we’d have to find jobs quickly. Such a move would be a huge change for our children which we don’t want to inflict on them.
And there’s no guarantee that the governments of those countries won’t impose new Covid Pass restrictions in the future.
Most importantly, we don’t want to move.
We love where we live. It’s our home, our culture, our language, our nature. We’re not important people, but we have deep roots in the area: both my family and my wife’s family have lived here for hundreds of years. We’re part of this place. We want to continue to raise our children here. We don’t want to leave.
So what will we do?
Honestly, we don’t know. We really don’t know.
Covid Pass in other EU countries
I’ve shown the details of the Covid Pass in my country of Lithuania because that’s where I live and what I know best.
We’re definitely one of the more restrictive countries in Europe right now. And some of the rules we have are uniquely crazy.
But we’re not the only one with a Covid Pass. By my count, 14 of the 27 European Union countries have begun imposing domestic Covid Pass restrictions. Here’s a sample of a few of those countries, showing in which situations they are requiring the Covid Pass as well as a link to an official government site with the details:
Restaurants. Hotels. All indoor and outdoor events. All leisure and sports facilities, both indoors and outdoors.
Age limit: 12 and over. In the capital of Vienna, the age limit is 6.
Restaurants, cafes, bars. Churches and other religious services. Outdoor and indoor events. Shopping centers and department stores. Funerals, weddings, baptisims. Indoor leisure and sports. Hotels.
Age limit: 12 and over.
Restaurants, cafes, bars. Shopping malls. Hospitals except for emergency care. Retirement homes and residential care homes. Long-distance travel by plane, train, or bus. Campsites and other holiday accommodation.
Age limit: 12 and over.
In addition to the above restrictions for the entire population, the Covid Pass is mandatory for all workers and staff in medical fields and in public-facing service jobs such as restaurants, bars, and tourism.
Restaurants, bars, cafes for indoor dining. Intercity travel by plane, train, ship, ferry, or bus. All outdoor and indoor public events, including sporting events. Museums and shows. Swimming pools, gyms, spas, fitness centers. Weddings. Festivals and trade fairs. Conventions.
Age limit: 12 and over.
In addition to the above restrictions for the entire population, vaccination is mandatory for all medical workers since July. At the start of September, the Prime Minister said that his government could expand this mandate to the entire population, making vaccinations compulsory for all citizens once the European Medical Agency (EMA) gives full approval to the vaccines.
Restaurants on weekends (starting Fridays at 19:00) and on holidays. Hotels, tourist apartments. Group classes in gyms. Weddings and baptisms with more than 10 people.
Age limit: 12 and over.
On the other hand, there are European countries with no domestic Covid Pass restrictions, for example Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. They all have different Covid restrictions – masks, capacity limits, curfews – but no Covid Pass for domestic use.
Note that the measures above refer to domestic regulations.
For travel, every European country currently limits cross-border travel based on vaccination/Covid Pass status.
How to help: please amplify this message
My initial goal with this article was to inform English-language readers of the Covid Pass changes happening in Europe.
But as I’ve seen that my post has bounced back and gotten attention in my country, I’ve thought that maybe this message can have an impact here as well.
We’re a small country and dependent on the outside world. Our politicians care how we’re perceived by the EU, the US, and the world. No one talks about us much, so any outside attention we do get is discussed endlessly.
It’d be a big deal here if the rest of the world starts talking about the craziness of our new Covid Pass rules.
My country is much too invested – both literally invested with money and technology, as well as politically and emotionally invested with laws and media focus – to flip immediately and kill the Covid Pass. And as I’ve described, about half the other EU countries have some restrictions based on their own Covid Passes, so my country can hide in their shadow.
But Lithuania has progressed further down this path than others with rules that are uniquely crazy.
I think that attention from abroad can have a positive impact in forcing politicians here to reduce and eliminate the spite and craziness of the Covid Pass regime. In a small country like ours, it doesn’t take many people to hear this message for it to have an effect.
And most importantly, outside attention could open room for actual debate about the Covid Pass. When people see that outsiders perceive these rules with horror and outrage, they feel less need to censor themselves and can instead enter into a real discussion about the profound changes that are happening in society.
The Opportunity Pass in Lithuania is still new and has many implementation snafus. If the Covid Pass is allowed to continue, the problems will be fixed, bureaucracy will grow and become entrenched, and this regime will be normalized and accepted.
And then the case of Lithuania will be heralded by other countries as a successful example of a nation where the Covid Pass is required to have “the opportunity to participate in society”.
And where those who do not have a Covid Pass are banned from society.
I’m a very ordinary man. I’ve never cared about politics. I’ve never been to a protest in my life. My favorite activity is go to the forest and hunt for wild mushrooms with my wife and children (the chanterelles are heavenly this year!).
In short, I’m not political and I’m not an activist. But I am moral. And what is happening is morally wrong. Deeply, deeply wrong.
That’s why I want to stop it – for my country and for every other country. Lithuania is the harbinger of the future facing every nation if we continue down the path of a Covid Pass regime.
So here’s my request to you:
Please forward this message on. Let people know what’s happening.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
You can verify on the official websites of our government every rule which I’ve described in this article. The official law and full details are in our language, but the government created English-language pages which have descriptions of the main restrictions:
The Health Ministry main page.
The coronavirus page of the Health Ministry.
The Health Ministry’s official description in English of Covid restrictions. For the details of the Covid Pass, look under “National Certificate (Covid Passport).” For the restrictions against people without the Covid Pass, look under the heading “Additional measures to manage the pandemic as of 13 September”.
The official government website about the Opportunity Pass. The site is made by the Ministry of the Economy and Innovation.
FAQ about Covid restrictions, made by the Ministry of the Economy and Innovation.
The state of emergency declaration of 26-Feb-20. The temporary law has been updated and modified numerous times in the last 19 months, including with the current Covid Pass restrictions. The most recent version of the law is effective from 13-Sep-21 to 15-Oct-21. The official version is in Lithuanian. The PDF in the link above is an unofficial English-language translation posted by the Ministry of Health.
I’ve tried to be scrupulous in reporting the Covid Pass rules in our country. But the rules are convoluted and are changed almost daily. If you find something wrong, or something which I should include, please let me know.
Comments, questions, ideas, corrections? Feel free to email me.
I read every message. I have more time now that I’m suspended from work.
Lastly, many people have written to offer money. It’s very kind, and I’m humbled by the goodness and generosity in these messages. But I don’t want money or recognition. All I want is to get the message out. I’m not social media savvy. I have zero platform. I’m just an ordinary man trapped in a Kafkaesque world of mind-numbing absurdity. So I’d be deeply grateful for any help you can give to draw attention to this message.