Latvia gets new health minister after vaccine row

Latvia’s parliament on Thursday approved a liberal party leader as the Baltic state’s new health minister after his predecessor was fired over her handling of the coronavirus vaccine campaign.

“We must become more proactive and get ahead of the virus by preparing better vaccination plans, and Daniels Pavluts is the one for the job,” Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told parliament.

Pavluts immediately got down to work after he was confirmed with 61 votes in favour, three against and 32 abstentions in the 100-seat parliament. 

The 44-year-old is a classically trained pianist and former economy minister with an MBA from Harvard and no previous experience in healthcare. He is the co-leader of the Development/FOR! political alliance. 

“I have a feeling that I’m going to war: people are dying, doctors and their staff are burning out, we’re at the worst point of the pandemic,” Pavluts told parliament. 

He succeeds fellow alliance member Ilze Vinkele, who was forced to resign earlier this week after trading verbal blows with the premier over vaccination policy.

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

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

The parliament also decided Thursday to extend the night-time curfew until January 25, amid a rising daily Covid death toll and intensive care units near breaking point. 

The country of 1.9 million people has registered nearly 47,000 infections since the epidemic struck. More than 800 people have died.