On March 14th 2020, the Government of Latvia has taken extra steps to ensure safety and curb the spread of the coronavirus by amending the particular measures. The State of Emergency that has been declared in Latvia until 14 April 2020, has later been extended until 12 May 2020.
There are the following restrictions:
- Prohibit all public events (as defined in the Law On Safety of Public Entertainment and Festivity Events), gatherings, processions and pickets (as defined in the Law On Meetings, Processions and Pickets), religious activities performed in gatherings, the operation of sports facilities, and any private events, except private funeral services held outdoors, if an inter-personal distance of 2 meters is maintained and other measures of epidemiological security are observed. Outdoor cultural, entertainment, sports and other recreational venues are required to be open not earlier than at 8.00 and close not later than 23.00.
- Starting from 17 March 2020, cancel international carriage of passengers via airports, ports, by buses and rail transport, except for carriage of passengers by State aircraft and military transport (exceptions can be made).
- Starting from 17 March 2020, prohibit movement of persons and vehicles via border crossing points of the external border of the European Union at airports, ports, rail and motorways (exceptions can be made), as well as at the border crossing points which are provided for the local border traffic, except for carriage of freight.
These measures have left a severe impact on the cultural and creative sector, as all theatres, concert halls, cinemas, municipal cultural and community centres and museums are closed. Libraries have chosen different approaches, while most public libraries are not open to public, some libraries in smaller municipalities have made special arrangements to serve the public (books can be ordered electronically or via phone and received individually). Music and art schools, as well as higher art education institutions (Latvian Academy of Music; Art Academy of Latvia and Latvian Academy of Culture) are also closed, but as other educational institutions, they provide distant learning for their students.
The situation has also affected many cultural events and festivals, both national and international, that have been either cancelled or postponed. The Latvian School Youth Song and Dance Festival that is held in a five-year cycle has been postponed from summer 2020 to summer 2021.
In the meantime, the situation has created new activities online – such as online concerts and theatre performances; also many video recordings of cultural events have been made available to public free of charge. The social media campaign #Ēkultūra launched by the Ministry of Culture encourages people to use different electronic services and online cultural activities.
The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia is taking an active role – consulting with the representatives of the sector, reacting on effects and proposing solutions. You can follow the information here. Many cultural associations take an active role in monitoring the situation, serving as mediators and proposing solutions (e.g. the Association of the NGOs of Contemporary Culture; the Association of Producers of the Events in Latvia; the Council of Creative Unions in Latvia).
Measures to alleviate the negative impact of COVID-19 on the cultural and creative sector, and the media in Latvia
In Latvia, the cultural and creative sector can benefit from horizontal support measures that the government has put in place to support all sectors that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are no specific measures for the cultural and creative sector, it is important that the horizontal support mechanisms are also available to self-employed persons and those whose main income is royalty payments.
Horizontal measures for businesses
- Businesses in the crisis-affected sectors including the cultural and creative sector will be able to apply for deferral of payment of taxes. If a crisis-affected company is at standstill, its employees will be eligible for a state-compensated remuneration (so called “idle-time benefit”) of 75% of their gross salary during the previous two quarters, but not exceeding EUR 700 per calendar month. The idle-time benefit is not subject to payroll tax (personal income tax) and mandatory State social insurance contributions.
- Furthermore, it will be possible for businesses to defer tax payments for a period of up to three years, and the deadline for submitting annual tax reports has been extended to at least 31 July. The State Revenue Service will refund approved VAT payments already within 30 days of submission of VAT declarations.
- The State and local authorities will be entitled to exempt businesses in a crisis-affected sector from rent payments or to reduce them. It will also be possible not to set any interest and contractual penalties in the case of delay of payments, except on those for services used – electric power, water supply and other property maintenance services.
- ALTUM, the national development finance institution, will provide loan guarantees and loans for crisis solutions to businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
- In addition, sick leave pay to persons who have been tested positive for COVID-19 or who must go into quarantine is paid from the state budget (normally, the employer covers the first 10 days of sick leave).
- Self-employed persons as well as those who earn their income from royalties and micro-enterprise (a special form of small businesses) tax payers are eligible for the idle-time benefit provided that they do not undertake any economic activity during the period of receiving the benefit and are not employed. For self-employed persons the amount of the benefit is 75% of their gross income during the previous two quarters, but not exceeding EUR 700 per calendar month. Micro enterprise tax payers can receive 50% of their micro-enterprise’s average revenue during the previous two quarters but no more than EUR 700 per calendar month.
State supported cultural and creative projects
- An essential financing instrument for culture in Latvia is the State Cultural Capital Foundation (SCCF). Each project that has been funded by the SCCF and is now struggling because of the crisis will be assessed individually. There are two possible options for such projects: if possible, postponing the project’s activities. If possible, the activities of such projects will be moved to a later date (when necessary changing the project outcomes, targets and implementation period). If grantees fail to deliver project outcomes due to a cancellation of activities because of reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will not have to pay back any non-refundable expenditure related to the cancelled activities.
- The Ministry of Culture and the Consumer Rights Protection Centre have agreed on a special procedure for refunding tickets to events that cannot take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic which is treated as a force majeure. If the events are postponed to a later date previously purchased tickets will be valid and the organisers will not be required to reimburse the tickets. The organisers must communicate the information on the timing of the relocation as soon as possible after the end of the emergency, but not later than within six months (however, it does not mean that all the postponed events have to take place within those six months). If postponing the event is not possible, the organisers can offer to exchange the tickets for entry to an equivalent event or to refund the ticket costs in line with the Consumer protection law once the force majeure situation is over.
- As the media sector is among the sectors affected by the COVID-19 crisis, media companies can qualify for general support mechanisms (tax breaks, idle period, support instruments for improving financial accessibility, etc.).
- The decision for an additional EUR 2,04 million support for media in Latvia has been taken. About half of this sum will be distributed through the Media Support Fund – a governmental financial programme for supporting media.
- The Ministry of Culture has also proposed to the government to support covering the costs of printed media delivery as well as the costs of broadcasting radio and TV channels.
- In order to make it easier for the media to generate own revenue, the Ministry has encouraged revision of advertising restrictions.
Thanks to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia for the provided information on government measures.