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As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, Latvians over the age of 50 expect the government to implement the same measures and restrictions as in the spring. They voice that mobility restrictions should be imposed sooner and should be stricter, that health care for patients who suffer from chronic conditions should be improved, and that less support should be given to repatriation measures. These are the conclusions drawn by a Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) and University of Latvia (LU) subproject, which was implemented under the National Research Programme. The impact of the pandemic on the elderly population of Latvia is undeniable – almost a fifth of respondents admitted that COVID-19 has had an impact on their mental health. 

Public health and migration researchers from RSU and LU have collected data on the effects of the coronavirus on the Latvian population over the age of 50 by means of a survey and detailed interviews. Around 1,000 respondents from different regions in Latvia participated in the survey, which covered questions regarding health, as well as economic and social aspects. 

The results of the survey show that more than a half of the respondents have access to digital technology, but only one fifth said that they use these to access health care services. Similarly, digital technology is rarely used to shop online. LU researcher Sigita Sniķere points out that the elderly population mostly tend to use technology to obtain information. RSU researcher Guntis Balodis points out that the low prevalence of video calling among the population over the age of 50 could be explained by a lack of skills and means.

Analysing how habits have changed during the pandemic, RSU lecturer Olga Rajevska has come to a conclusion that more than 75 % of respondents avoided visiting shops and public places, using public transportation and other forms of direct contact with people. People admitted that their daily activities were restricted during the state of emergency, however, they did not see such restrictions as excessive. Just over a half of the respondents said that they stocked up on groceries.

According to RSU leading researcher Ieva Reine, the results from the survey show that the elderly population in Latvia is very concerned about repatriation flights and the associated risks of infection – they do not believe that everyone who returns from abroad self-isolates, or complies with restrictions adequately. When assessing the information on COVID-19, the respondents admitted to have more trust in infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists than in politicians. The trust in politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic has, however, been quite high. 

The study also covered employment. It was concluded that only 10 % of those surveyed worked remotely. The findings of the interviews show that the elderly population, including those who were employed, accepted the current situation and trusted in fate. Due to their life experience – years of war and post-war turmoil, the cold war and various life struggles – the elderly population has a different perspective on the COVID-19 crisis than people do.

This article is based on SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) data and questions of the Covid-19 quantitative survey adapted for the circumstances of Latvia.

The ‘Impact of COVID-19 on the population of Latvia over the age of 50: recommendations for reducing health and social consequences and readiness for future crises’ subproject is implemented within the framework the National Research Programme project 6.5 ‘Impact of COVID-19 on health care system and public health in Latvia; ways in preparing health sector for future epidemics’.