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The Ministry of Education and Science and the Latvian Council of Science organised a panel discussion called Beating COVID-19 Through Science, which was streamed on the Delfi web portal. The panel covered solutions that Latvian scientists have found to help overcome COVID-19 and the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. Additionally the panel presented findings from the national research programme to lessen the effects of COVID-19 and the study on epidemiology and filogenesis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Latvia. 

Representatives from ministries and other state institutions and organisations participated in the discussion alongside the project’s implementers, and the panel was moderated by Dr. biol. Juris Šteinbergs. The discussion was divided into three panels in accordance with the programme’s themes.

Diskusija notika trīs paneļos atbilstoši programmas tematiskajām jomām: 

  1. Health care and public health (the 1st - 5th project of the programme, as well as the Study on epidemiology and filogenesis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Latvia);
  2. Engineering solutions (6th - 8th project);
  3. Economy and public welfare (9th - 10th project).

Answers to viewer questions on (in Latvian)

Dr. philol. Ilga Šuplinska, the Minister for Education and Science opened the discussion. In her speech, she highlighted that it has been possible use of Latvian research resources and the scientists’ potential, create input, data and knowledge that serve as a base for sectoral policies to make it possible to respond to the needs of society efficiently during the national research programme to lessen the effects of COVID-19. The 500 scientists who participated in the 10 projects and their 52 subprojects generated data sets, models and prototypes for other studies, as well, and contributed to the economy. 

Daniels Pavļuts, the Minister for Health, and Dr. habil. chem. Ivars Kalviņš, the President of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, also expressed their satisfaction with the researchers’ achievements. The fate of humanity is in many ways in the hands of scientists, and Latvian scientists are fully fledged players internationally. 

‘We have discovered a substance that lowers viral concentrations 157 thousand times, and it has been found that meldonium reduces complications in patients with severe COVID-19. These two discoveries would be enough to make us proud, but there are many more,’ said Kalviņš.

Dr. Alvis Brāzma, Head of the Genomic Section of the European Bioinformatics Institute, European Molecular Biology Laboratory also acknowledged Latvian scientists’ international capabilities. ‘Genome sequencing has turned from being a toy of fundamental science to a matter of national security. Latvia is one of the relatively few countries that has the potential to track the most dangerous types of the virus with genome sequencing, and thus help international researchers to develop vaccines that could fight these types.’

The Ministry of Economics was represented at the discussion by Deputy State Secretary Raimonds Aleksejenko and Sectoral Policy Senior Expert Edgars Ozoliņš-Ozols. They acknowledged the importance of the study’s findings on productivity in the decision-making process concerning innovation, digitalisation, human resources and infrastructure development in Latvia. Likewise, the scientists’ suggestions on the necessity of digital transformation in business will be taken in account, offering support measures to develop digital skills, digitise processes and create new projects or services.

Māris Rēvalds, the Chairperson of the Board of the health centre Veselības Centrs 4, stressed the usefulness of the engineering solutions both in medical institutions and public spaces that have been developed seeing as threats of more aggressive strains, high efficiency and capacity disinfectants and protective equipment will play an increasingly large role. Meanwhile, Ināra Pētersone, the executive director of the Healthcare Employers’ Association and a representative of the of the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia, was happy about the regulatory framework of telemedicine, which was assessed during the studies, and confirmed that entrepreneurs are prepared to support telemedicine so that it equally covers both state and private medical institutions.

Jānis Eglīts, the Head of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture, urged local governments to familiarise themselves with a study on the stages of the food chain “from farm to fork”, and to use its recommendations when compiling food packages for schoolchildren during the pandemic. This would help them make sure not to include unsuitable products, but rather to choose products that are both simple to cook and nutritious. Guntis Vilnītis, the Director-General of the Latvian Agricultural Organisation Cooperation Council, agreed that research-based recommendations on the provision of locally sourced food would help farmers and businesses plan their products, thereby contributing to the development of the agricultural sector and economic sustainability in general.

Daiga Holma, Head of the Strategic Communication Department, stressed the importance of effective national communication including science-based information and the increasingly important role of strategic communication to combat disinformation. At the end of the discussion, Ilga Šuplinska, the Minister for Education and Science pointed out that it is necessary to establish a dialogue between scientists and the public and to continue addressing a wide audience and to share information about the practical conclusions of these findings and their use, as well as the benefits of research comprehensibly. The minister also stressed the importance of the dialogue between state administration and scientists when addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19, and urged ministries to actively use the findings and to be proactive in defining which matters require researchers to get involved quickly.

The programme to lessen the effects of COVID-19 is implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the Latvian Council of Science. The aim of the programme is to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to protect society, to implement innovative and advanced scientific projects that would help to urgently re-establish economic activity and social life, develop scientific forecasts on scenarios for further action in Latvia in the autumn of 2020, as well as in 2021 and 2022, including to overcome new outbreaks by implementing research in the three abovementioned areas. Additional information on the national research programme to lessen the effects of COVID-19 can be found on the website of the Latvian Council of Science.