The Project “Evaluation of Legal, Policy and Economic Responses in Times of Crisis: Balancing Public Safety and Human Rights”, implemented between July-December 2020 by legal, public policy and economy experts of Mykolas Romeris University and supported by Lithuanian Council of Science funding (project No. S-COV-20-28) resulted in: (a) complex ex post evaluation of state measures related to halting the spread of COVID-19 in Lithuania during the first wave of the pandemic; (b) recommendations for dealing with future emergencies, including the model of crisis management; (c) publication of 12 scientific articles (available in Lithuanian only: https://repository.mruni.eu/handle/007/17050) and 5 articles that will be published as a special issue in international journals; (d) commentaries in the media and (e) public opinion pool.
The legal assessment concluded that Lithuanian institutions appropriately qualified the pandemic situation in Spring 2020, as there were no grounds under national law to declare a state of emergency. Analysis of human rights restrictions (introduced by Government Resolution No. 207 of 14 March 2020) demonstrated that there were no legal basis, or only abstract ones for some of such restrictions in the laws, thus the Government acted ultra vires. Up until now there is no legal basis in laws for banning economic activities. The legislation on civil safety did not prove to be appropriate for such a durable crisis as COVID-19 and alike, thus it is necessary to establish a clear legal regulation of a quarantine regime, its introduction and cessation grounds, state authority powers and possible limitations of rights and freedoms, ending of such limitations, and the parliamentary control possibility, which was absent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis concluded that some restrictions were necessary and proportionate to the objective to halt the spread of infection (e.g. right to education or economic activities). The conclusions may though differ in individual situations depending on concrete circumstances. On the other hand, despite the legitimate objectives of all Government restrictive measures, some of them failed to meet the constitutional and international law requirements (e.g. compulsory isolation, failure to guarantee anonymity while announcing the data on places visited by infected persons, prohibition of prison visits, suspension of certain health care services (scheduled operations, hospitalisation, odontology services)). A public opinion poll in social networks of approx. 800 respondents in December 2020 confirmed that Lithuanian residents considered their right to health (33 %) and the freedom of movement (30 %) to have been most affected by pandemic restrictions introduced. The improvements needed in legal regulation relate to the order and conditions of prescribing self-isolation or mandatory isolation, restrictions of health care services, and other restrictions not yet provided by the laws. Experience from the first lockdown proved that the legal remedies against the decisions of public administration entities are insufficient. The right to a fair trial during the first quarantine was in principle accessible, but delayed due to rescheduled oral hearings. Increasingly moving towards distant court sessions, it is essential to guarantee the safe transfer of data related to cases. The first quarantine involved frequently, the most restrictive measures without providing for alternatives; while applying less stringent measures first and moving to more restrictive ones only if the situation deteriorates, this would be recommended.
Comparative analysis of Lithuania and foreign countries revealed that restrictions applied in Lithuania were far more stringent than in other countries if compared with the rate of infections, while its neighbours achieved similar results with less restrictive measures. Evaluation confirmed that restrictions introduced in March 2020 have had an impact on all sectors of economy in Lithuania and unemployment was rising faster than in other EU countries. One possible cause could have been improperly implemented state support measures for business.
Analysis of financial measures applied during the pandemic showed that without additional stat financial support for business and other entities, states would have encountered larger economic losses. Although a number of such support measures have been successful, providing safeguards to ensure its effectiveness and better targeting in the future is necessary. Monetary policy measures should not be oriented towards one factor, activity or sector funding, but rather be comprehensive and wide.
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