World News

Lithuania extends lockdown as COVID-19 cases surge

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania on Wednesday extended its coronavirus lockdown until Dec. 17, when the new government is expected to take over.

The outgoing government said the lockdown had stabilised new infections at about 11,000 per week, twice as high as during the week of Nov. 4 when the three-week lockdown was announced.

“The spread has slowed somewhat, but the situation remains really serious,” Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga said during a televised cabinet session.

This lockdown extension will keep many companies working from home. Restaurants, gyms, universities and secondary schools will remain shut but shops are open.

The government dropped its initial plan to extend the lockdown to the end of the year, leaving it to the centre-right coalition that won October’s election to decide whether to keep the restrictions during the festive season.

The new government is seen as more pro-business and is unlikely to keep increasing social payouts.

Europe is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections in many countries, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Wednesday against lifting the restrictions too early.

As of Wednesday, Lithuania reported 804 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, the sixth worst rate in the European Union.

Parliament is in a week-long self-imposed recess to help contain the spread of COVID-19 among its members.

The capital Vilnius is preparing to set up a 700-bed makeshift hospital in its largest exhibition centre, as the city fears its health system may soon get overloaded with COVID-19 patients.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Alison Williams