Sabīne Ulberte: The victory march of Covid allows a small section of society to make a lot of money. Above all - the pharmaceutical giants

"My first profession was a nurse, and when I learned that hospitals needed help to work with Covid patients, I volunteered to work in the East Hospital's Covid ward. The experience I gained led me to the conclusion that a large number of patients could be treated at home with adequate treatment. But they don't get it," says Sabīne Ulberte, Chairwoman of the Board of the Latvian Association of Beauty Specialists.
11.12.2021. Elita Veidemane
©Dmitrijs SUĻŽICS, F64 Photo Agency

Sabīne Ulberte: More than a year ago, the industry I represent was plunged into a serious crisis that affected the lives of thousands of people - effectively leaving them without a job and any income. We received negative attitudes towards beauty professionals - and these are mostly women who often support families, children and grandparents - not only from the government but also partly from the public.

The closure of the industry was justified on the grounds of concern for society, on the grounds of combating the risks of contracting Covid, on the grounds that the beauty industry is potentially the most vulnerable to Covid and that it is an industry that anyone can do without for a shorter or longer period of time. The decision-makers were initially completely unconcerned about how long people working in the industry could go without any income...

The government, however, granted a 500 euro a month downtime support to every beauty professional...

When the beauty industry was closed down in October 2020 by the former Minister of Health Viņķele, there was no support mechanism from the state for the people in the industry. In January 2021, Finance Minister Reirs (JV) was sympathetic and together with the industry, a solution was found to pay the idle people 500 euros a month as a temporary way out of the unenviable situation, especially when the government promised to let the industry reopen on January 27... The industry could only reopen in June! And that's where the art of survival began because with these 500 euros women had to be able to support their families, pay their bills, loans and internships. At the same time, there were those in government and those in society who were trying to shame the people in my sector who had not worked for nine months and dared to ask the government to find other solutions to the downtime. Let ministers try living on a salary of 500 euros a month for a year!

The closure of the sector did not take into account the fact that a large proportion of those working in the sector are specialists on the medical practitioners' register, who must comply with the hygiene and epidemiological safety regulations laid down by the Cabinet of Ministers, as well as with the requirements of the Health Inspectorate. Moreover, it goes without saying that any professional has an interest in protecting both himself and his clients and in introducing additional safety measures.

So why have we been declared the riskiest sector? There was no justification for this - and there is none now, because there is only theoretical conjecture and speculation, with no confirmation that cosmetic practices in particular have been hotbeds of infection. Not now with Covid, and not in the past with any other virus.

Maybe they just needed to find someone to blame...? And then propose various bans.

During the last state of emergency, when we have been experiencing Covid for almost two years now, the government has invariably been proposing the same restrictions in different versions, but the situation is getting worse.

It seems that the government (or is it the Operational Management Group?) already has an automatic portfolio of restrictions - like the automatic movements of a caged animal: they continue even when the cage is removed. Health Minister Pavļuts and his experts continue to modify the government's priorities in the fight against Covid by focusing and shifting all responsibility to the unvaccinated people who are forced to be fired/not allowed to work. This sends misleading messages to the public: if you are vaccinated, you are protected, and that the rising numbers of people infected with Covid are entirely the fault of the unvaccinated.

I have my own experience. When my sector closed again in October, I contracted Covid - at a time when I was not carrying out my professional duties. It should be noted that I was one of the first to be vaccinated, back when the medical profession was starting to do so. My family and my friends have all been vaccinated.

When you felt symptoms you did, of course, call the number to find out what to do?

Yes. But the testing procedure is definitely one that needs to be radically changed if anyone really wants to limit the spread of infection. I phoned the Gulbis' laboratory and booked for a test at a specific time - in the full confidence that I would be the only one there when I gave the test because it was clear that I was a Covid patient with two positive pharmacy tests. When I asked how I could get to the testing laboratory and whether I could take public transport, the answer was: of course, you have to get here somehow. I realized that this was common: people with acute symptoms take public transport to have a Covid test.

There were other people in the waiting room who were going to give tests. There was a common corridor with doors to the dentist's, GP's, cosmetologist's offices. In the corridor there were, I assume, healthy people sitting, and then I came in - a possible Covid patient. I think a medic in a protective suit should have taken the tests from me, but that's not how it happened. After that, I was allowed to go about my business, because the test had not yet been confirmed.

What happens to a Covid patient when he receives news of a positive test result?

If he has been vaccinated, the vaccination certificate is blocked. The infected person can no longer enter a shop, go to the theatre, etc. But what happens to people who do not go to the laboratory, feel fine, but find out about their positive result through a self-test? They can go to work, the theatre and shops with their certificate. They can go everywhere that unvaccinated people are not allowed to go, and uninfected people can go with a negative test.

This sick person gets a call from the CDPC asking about possible contacts - but how is it possible to name everyone he meets in the shop, the bus passengers and the people in the laboratory?

What do you see as the way out?

If the government's priority is really to contain the virus, then I believe that the state should ensure that all employees are tested, regardless of vaccination status, by finding funding, for example by closing perpetually empty vaccination centers and getting rid of the expensive vaccination bureau, and that these tests should be of one type across the country - the type with the highest reliability of results.

The argument that I have been vaccinated and therefore do not need to be tested is absurd because without having a single symptom, without knowing that I was infected, I infected seven people - one of whom is still, unfortunately, in a hospital!

If I, as a cosmetologist, had to choose between two patients - one unvaccinated but with a fresh negative test, the other vaccinated and with a certificate but without a test - I would choose the former. He will be safer for me.

They say our hospitals are overcrowded. At least they were recently.

When a person is infected with Covid, the GP calls him and asks how he is. Neither the GP nor the nurse goes to the patient's home. And he is not allowed to go to the clinic or the pharmacy. He has no medicines. The only way he can get help is to call the ambulance.

When a patient says: "I got sick yesterday, I have a temperature of 39 degrees," he is told to take ibuprofen. The ambulance will come when you are extremely ill. But by then, irreversible lung damage may have already started. If you can convince the ambulance that "I'm already dying", then you get to a hospital quickly enough and get adequate treatment. This is why hospitals are overcrowded.

My second profession is nurse, and I volunteered to work in the East Hospital's Covid ward. I can clearly say that a large proportion of patients can be treated at home with adequate treatment.

But they don't get it!

Of course, they don't. At best, people have paracetamol, ibuprofen and tea at home, not antibiotics, prednisolone or other prescription drugs prescribed by a doctor who assesses each patient's condition, but that is not possible over the telephone.

What should be done?

I believe that the problems that exist in the outpatient block of healthcare need to be addressed urgently! I know how overloaded GPs are, most of them with one nurse, but if curbing the spread of the Covid virus is a priority, it is long past time to find additional resources and facilities for outpatient care, as is the case in other countries where mortality rates are many times lower and hospitals are not overcrowded.

We also need to learn from the experience of other countries. In Latvia, there was a delay in bringing additional human resources, but this has had an effect: there is a relatively large number of people to help in hospitals. In addition, guidelines for the treatment of patients with Covid have been developed throughout Europe, but in Latvia, they have only been successfully implemented in hospitals.

If I'm not mistaken, a system was set up where people could volunteer to help, within their means, to solve the problems caused by Covid.

Yes. Anyone can help - people in the armed forces, non-working medical professionals, people from organizations, colleges and schools, ordinary people. Everyone was sent to work in hospitals - to push beds, to turn patients, to help with this and that.

But why shouldn't some of these people be relegated to the outpatients' block - they could deliver medicines to patients at home. If volunteers were attached to the outpatient block, a large proportion of patients would not end up in hospitals. But in any case, it will not solve the situation if medics continue to consult sick people over the phone - they cannot and should not go to the pharmacy, the clinic or the shop, no one comes to their home. What to do?

There is also the psychological aspect to consider: when people are told for two years by the media, by the government, that people are dying, it is understandable that the person who has fallen ill starts to panic and is unable to judge for themselves the severity of the illness.

We now have two states in the country - green and red. People are also divided into greens and reds.

The reds are not allowed to go to the supermarket, get services or go to the theatre. Greens are allowed to do so, although people of both "colors" carry the virus and get sick. At the Eastern Hospital, one of the leading clinics in Latvia, both outpatients and inpatients wait in the corridor of the diagnostic department at the same time to be examined. A person who has come to have his finger photographed, for example, with a cloth mask over his nose, stands next to a bed with a Covid patient.

What is surprising: when entering the Eastern Hospital and walking around the wards, not once are you asked for a certificate - so anyone from the street can walk around the hospital, but not everyone is allowed to play sports or eat out.

So how logical is it to ban cosmetologists from their profession? A cosmetologist serves five to six clients a day, one to one, currently only with certificates, under all epidemiological conditions.

Watching all this, one gets the impression that neither the government nor the health care system as a whole is interested in stopping the epidemic. Because the victory march of Covid allows a small section of society to make a lot of money. Above all, the pharmaceutical giants. Secondly, the advertising companies. Thirdly, the medical profession, but only those who work directly with Covid patients - they get a 100% bonus. And, of course, the government and public servants, officials who can easily "work" from home. But, it turns out, no one misses their work, and their salary rolls into their account every month with a guarantee.

Is a nurse's work in other departments really less demanding, less responsible and less necessary than in a Covid ward?

And those on whom it depends to stop the epidemic have not done all they can to stop it.

Will the fact that Sabīne Ulberte and other cosmetologists will be banned from working in their profession really help to stop the spread of Covid?

We see the film "Netīrā zona" on TV, we see how horrible it is, how everyone there is wearing a protective suit and how difficult it is. Yes, I know it is hard - I have walked around like that myself. But, I'm sorry, show the other side - the waiting room where everyone is together, both the healthy and the infected, show the other wards and the intensive care ward in oncology, surgery...

Let's talk about vaccines. I know that you have studied their descriptions.

Yes, I would like to have some questions answered by our national experts - Perevoščikovs, Dumpis. And from Health Minister Pavļuts too. What is the basis for the claim that one vaccine protects us for six months, another for two, a third for eight? All the vaccine descriptions contain the same sentence: "The duration of protection provided by the vaccine is unknown, as it is still being determined in ongoing clinical trials."

The second sentence, which is the same for all vaccines, is: "Vaccination with (name of specific vaccine) may not provide protection for all recipients."

This means that the manufacturer does not ensure that all recipients of the vaccine will develop the same protection against infection.

So why is our country, once again, one of the exception countries that completely ignores the fact that a person can have antibodies after contracting Covid - something that he may not even be aware of? And it may also be the case that a person does not develop any antibodies after receiving a vaccine. And then he is accused of having bought a fake certificate. Yes, I know that many people have indeed bought one, but there are vaccinated people who, unfortunately, have not developed protection against the virus. And this fact should not be ignored.

Why did you go to work as a nurse in the hospital's Covid ward? Was it an emotional drive?

I have a bachelor's degree in nursing from RSU, I have a nurse's education. Unfortunately, working in this field and raising three children at the same time does not allow you to provide for your family. So I went into the pharmaceutical business. Beauty specialist - cosmetologist is my second education.

Why did I choose to volunteer at the hospital? I don't want to embellish myself with non-existent altruism, but I also - like everyone - have bills to pay, so in the situation that our whole industry is in, I am in danger of being left without a livelihood. That is why I applied to work in a hospital, so that I would at least have some income when our sector closes down again.

Two Covid wards have been closed in the Eastern Hospital, so there are enough human resources there at the moment. When the government decides to close our sector again, I will return to the medical ranks and work as a nurse.

Are you worried that your sector might be closed again?

Yes, definitely. There is talk about it in the backrooms, there are even dates - December 15, December 20. This will happen when the infection figures start to rise again. Knowing the nature of the virus, which defies borders, lockdown, vaccines, time of day and traffic-light colored zones or anything else, a surge is possible after the recent public holidays. When the new strain of Omicron is confirmed in Latvia, perhaps it will be a case of "everything is bad and we must ban everything" all over again.

I have repeatedly attended Cabinet and Operational Management Group meetings and openly expressed my views, asked questions and proposed solutions, but I have not received any answers. We would all understand the bans on different professions and stand in solidarity if we were convinced that this is good for society and that together we are stopping Covid. But when our sector is banned from working for months, when many other sectors are flourishing, when sectors that have the possibility of spreading Covid remain open, the question is: why is that?

I would like to call on Health Minister Pavļuts, if he is really interested in what is happening in our country and in the Latvian health sector, to go and visit the leading hospitals - without notifying beforehand, without a warning. And then resign!

My recommendations to resolve the situation

  • The possibility of having a test without the risk of infecting other people - free rapid tests, transport, immediate isolation facilities;
  • Reform of the outpatient system - adequate treatment, home visits and delivery of medicines, monitoring, clear instructions (doctor calls, tests, etc.);
  • Control and revision of hospital epidemiological plans, completely eliminating the possibility of other types of patients becoming infected with Covid. Identify the cause and eliminate it immediately;
  • Improvement and adaptation of the social support system: e.g., by delivering food, so that the patient himself or relatives and contacts do not have to go to the shops or use public transport. This could be done with the help of the municipality;
  • Reviewing hospital-based treatments. It is not normal that the mortality rate from Covid in Latvia is higher than in the Scandinavian and Baltic countries combined. This would not be possible if Latvia really had the same guidelines as the other European countries. Perhaps the priority elsewhere is simply to save patients, not by blindly following theoretical guidelines, but by taking an individualized approach?
  • Do not stop elective medical care and select emergency care. The result is chronic diseases that turn acute and fatal. In addition, fear creates additional stress, new diseases and weakened immune systems, as well as a burden of patient ignorance and panic on medical staff;
  • A radical change in the way government communicates with the public, with entrepreneurs, with workers and pensioners... With taxpayers. We are only as many as we are. And there will be no others.


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