Foreign minister: Europe needs to revise travel policies

Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said on Monday that as the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection rate is rising throughout Europe, traveling abroad should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Restrictions also need to be rethought to stop a Europe-wide travel ban, he said.

Reinsalu said the system of restrictions jointly agreed by the Baltic States has worked well and the number of infections has been kept low but travel should be avoided in general.

There are two issues currently under discussion in the government.

Firstly, when traveling to Estonia from countries with a high infection rate, is it possible to replace the two-week self-isolation with testing, which is used in other countries? This would be used in order to avoid a two-week quarantine period with almost all foreign countries in the event of an increase in infections.

Secondly, how to prepare for a situation with direct flights to countries where the number of infections will be higher than 25 people per 100,000 inhabitants over a two week average. Under the current rules, direct flights should stop when this threshold is crossed but this may gradually lead to the all flights being halted.

Reinsalu (Isamaa) told ERR: "It seems to me that we need to revise these rules. It is important, as we have already agreed at the level of the three Baltic countries, to consult with each other if we, together with health experts, have an understanding of what the optimal model might be."

Most European countries have imposed travel restrictions on countries which have more than 16 infections per 100,000 inhabitants as a two week average. However, as August is the main holiday month in western and southern Europe, the number of infections is probably expected to increase in most countries at the end of the month, Reinsalu predicts. 

Therefore, it is necessary to review the current restriction principles so that a Europe-wide travel ban is not imposed again.

Restrictions on direct flight links with coronavirus high-risk countries may be extended beyond its current expiry date of August 31, daily Postimees reported on Monday.

The restrictions will see direct links with Denmark, France and Cyprus canceled for the rest of this week - at least - after infection rates in all three counties exceeded the limit last week.

You can still drive to Finland

Last week Finland announced new restrictions so that when a country's infection rate rises above eight a quarantine period should be undertaken on arrival to Finland. Last week, Estonia's rate was above 9.2 per 100,000 as a two week average and on Monday dropped to 8.4.

Reinsalu confirmed that despite the infection rate, Finland has not imposed any additional restrictions on Estonia at the moment and it is still possible to travel to Finland without quarantining.

"People can travel to Finland now, there is no ban. I have also told my Finnish colleague that it would be wise to follow this pan-European measure of 16 infected people," said Reinsalu, adding that Finland is reviewing its restrictions.

Paet: The sudden suspension of air connections must be stopped

Urmas Paet, Member of the European Parliament for Reform, said on Monday stopping air services at short notice should be halted as it restricts Estonia's ability to communicate with the outside world.

"It has no anti-virus effect, because people transfer at other airports and the number of contacts is increasing," Paet said.

Paet emphasized that in addition, people should be allowed to choose whether they undertake a coronavirus test or go into quarantine when arriving from a highly infected area.

"It would be reasonable to look at the regional differences between countries when deciding on restrictions. For example, the whole of Greece should not be on the list of restrictions if the infection rate is low on the island of Crete," Paet said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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