Reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus have recently risen more rapidly than before in the Latvian border town of Valka, according to a report on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Tuesday night. The border crossing there has also seen long queues of mostly trucks.
Valka, Latvia, and Valga, Estonia, have in recent years been developed as a common space with a trend towards further integration since both countries acceded to the Schengen Area of free movement continuing.
Special exceptions have just been adopted by authorities in both countries to allow those who work on one side of the border and live on the other to continue to make the cross-border trip. Generally, entry into Estonia by anyone would require a 14-day quarantine period as a coronavirus risk measure, making Latvian citizens who work in Valga exempt from requirements by the Estonian authorities that the latter would impose on its own citizens.
The initiative aims to help businesses reliant on cross-border commerce.
"Naturally, we now have a better system for those who want to come from Latvia to work in Estonia," said Andrus Reimaa, manager at the Valga-Valka border crossing.
"They have submitted their employment contracts to work for companies in the Valga area. The Valga meat processing plant has acted in a very exemplary manner, from whom work certificates and lists have already been received. Whoever wants to submit their name to us can do so via the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) email address."
"We can also check via the employment register whether a person is registered as an employee," Reimaa went on.
Coronavirus cases in Latvia, reported at 60 on Tuesday afternoon by public broadcaster LSM's English news portal, have been on the rise, according to the report, with senior infectology specialist at the Ministry of Health Ugis Dumpis saying that he does not think pandemic preventive measures can stop the spread, partly due to the length of time it takes for symptoms to present.
"People with clinical symptoms are the most infectious. But it takes 5-14 days for these symptoms to develop," Dumpis said.
There was also a long line of freight vehicles between Valga and Valka on Tuesday, the report said.
Latvia is also experiencing a large volume of returnees in the wake of the pandemic, with nearly 3,000 people notifying the foreign ministry of their desire to return home via air or sea from several places of origin, the report said.
As in Estonia, the arrivals face a 14-day quarantine period regardless of citizenship status or where they have traveled from.
Latvia has also announced that it would pay sick leave and 75 percent wages to those most affected by the crisis, again, similar measures to those planned in Estonia.
Valga-Valka life is still so intertwined in other ways in simple, every day life, that Andrus Reimaa said he was hoping for a resolution, while residents of both towns would be kept in the loop
But life is so intertwined that there are other cases - you need to go to the mum who lives a few hundred meters away, or feed the dog. There are also restrictions on the green border, with access to the Latvian cemetery closed.
"We very much hope that these issues will be resolved in the near future. If there are more problems and requests come in, we will also take the positions that we will immediately disclose to the residents of both cities," Reimaa said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte