Baiba Miltovica: Consumers face to the COVID-19

The coronavirus is one of the greatest challenges the European Union has ever faced. The spread of the virus will further hit the EU Member States' economies resulting in major threats not only for businesses and employment but also for consumers. This has prompted governments to implement exceptional measures to protect people.

The Latvian government acted fast when the first positive cases of COVID-19 appeared and introduced widespread measures to contain the virus. Latvians didn't face strict lockdown measures like people in other EU countries, but were careful about general safety measures like social distancing requirements, carrying out disinfection, closing shopping centres on weekends and holidays, keeping a two-metre distancing rule for physical social interactions and gatherings indoors and outdoors, etc., and people respected these rules.

In an interview with The Telegraph, prime minister Karins explained how he struck a balance between "keeping people healthy" and "doing the least amount of damage possible" to the economy.

We still have to be careful since the number of coronavirus infection cases is high in Europe. As long as there is no immunity against the virus, there will be a threat of a repeat outbreak. On top of that, as long as there are active locations where outbreaks of this disease are found, there will be a risk of it spreading again. It is impossible to predict for how long it will be necessary to maintain safety measures, but it is clear that the situation we are experiencing affects people's mental health, psychology and attitudes.

Civil society consumer organisations have already indicated that consumer behaviours and purchasing habits are changing. People are living differently, buying differently and, in many ways, thinking differently. Consumers are deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19, from both the health and economic perspectives and as a result, are currently centered on the most basic needs.

Consumers are shopping more consciously, buying local products on the one hand and embracing digital commerce on the other. The shopping landscape is changing, bringing a more advanced online offer. Many of these new ways will remain post-COVID-19. Therefore civil society consumer organisations must investigate and understand these new realities and trends and offer people appropriate protection.

Enhancing consumer trust remains a cornerstone for digital commerce in the marketplace. Information disclosures, payment protection, unsafe products, dispute resolution, enforcement and education are only some of the issues consumer organisations will further work on and follow closely.

The Latvian National Association for Consumer Protection remains committed to supporting governments and municipalities as they take steps to protect vulnerable consumers from COVID-19. While this crisis lasts, solidarity and coordination with civil society organisations are what we need.

As well as the efforts of national civil society organisations, in the post-COVID-19 era we will need a strong and stable EESC whose members are knowledgeable and ready to work to fully represent the interests of civil society organisations.