Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu told ERR that the Latvian government could lay down a two-week quarantine requirement for people traveling from Estonia to Latvia. According to Reinsalu, this would negatively impact Estonians traveling to Latvia as well as tourism from Latvia.
If our coronavirus figures do not go down, and they probably will not, will it become impossible to travel from Estonia to Latvia starting this weekend? I mean that one would have to isolate oneself in Latvia for two weeks?
We held lengthy talks with Baltic foreign and health ministers on Tuesday evening. The Latvian government discussed the matter today and finds that it does not consider expedient any exceptions for its Baltic neighbors concerning the previously agreed upon 16 per 100,000 people case rate limit.
We did, however, task health experts with analyzing whether general criteria could be redesigned to affect these proportions in the Baltic countries' logic. And whether the entire so-called Baltic bubble could be rethought.
If we can get all three governments to agree to changes, it might be possible to avoid a quarantine requirement when traveling to Latvia. If we cannot and we pass the 16 cases per 100,000 people limit, Latvia will impose quarantine. People will be able to travel to Latvia, but the country will require them to spend two weeks in isolation similarly to those coming from other countries sporting high COVID-19 case rates.
If a person already has a hotel room in Riga for the weekend and should the Latvian government refuse to make an exception, will they have to spend two weeks in that hotel room?
The general two-week isolation requirement would enter into force. That would require two things to happen – for the infection rate to exceed that limit by Friday. We are right on that edge today. And secondly for experts to fail in trying to find an alternative solution.
This is undoubtedly difficult to do for all three Baltic states as all have different COVID-19 situations.
Does this mean the Estonian foreign ministry advises people against planning trips to Latvia?
We will immediately release any additional information we might receive from Latvia. So people could make informed decisions.
There is a theoretical but high probability that Latvia will impose quarantine requirements on people who go there. This will definitely also impact Latvian tourism to Estonia. People will avoid traveling so as no to get stuck in quarantine.
What about Lithuanian citizens coming to Estonia? Lithuania's case rate exceeded 16 some time ago. Will we require them to get tested on the border or impose two weeks of quarantine?
The Estonian government will discuss that on Thursday. My position at yesterday's talks was that the three countries should make efforts to retain the Baltic bubble as we are heading into very difficult times in terms of international movement. And it will be much harder to return to a common model later on.
I wanted that trigger to be slower for the Baltics than for other countries. I hope health experts will find a model that could facilitate movement. If we cannot, quarantine requirements will take effect.
Should the Baltic bubble burst, we will have no more countries people from which do not have to get tested or isolate themselves. Would that basically equal restoring border control?
No, we have not decided anything in terms of border control. We have border control on external borders or for people from outside Schengen. Looking realistically at the situation, countries where COVID-19 is less prevalent than in Estonia, such as Hungary, have already barred entry for Estonian citizens. If Latvia introduces quarantine, it would be yet another constraint.
We had a meeting between different agencies today as regards Finland. There is clearly an aspect of indeterminacy there too. All of it forces us to go over our movement policy in general.
Estonia voiced its position for a new system of Europe-wide restrictions and metrics at a EU ambassadors' meeting in Brussels today. Implementing different levels of control in different countries will create new organizational confusion months or even weeks from now.
Did Estonia propose coming up with new figures or giving up on such metrics altogether? In other words, to keep borders open no matter what.
Estonia's position was that we do not deem total border closures in Europe sensible. Secondly, to have universal figures for countries. Thirdly, to have a transitional period for potential restrictions. So we would know in advance, so people could plan in advance. And finally, for testing to be available as an alternative to quarantine. In other words, so it would be possible to use the model we are using all over Europe.
Generally, that even if there are restrictions for entering countries, it would still be possible for people to move around Europe by complying with them.
Even though healthcare is a national matter, shouldn't the European Commission come up with new proposals? They are nowhere to be seen today. Do you expect them to be more active in making sure countries don't just lock their doors because their neighbors are doing it?
Definitely. France and Germany have also put in proposals. We will have an EU health ministers meeting on Friday where this matter will also be on the table. We have returned to this spring's logic by today, even though things are moving more slowly. However, we would do well to learn from decisions made in spring.
Therefore, the coming weeks should bring clarity in terms of traveling to Latvia and Finland?
Yes. It is also possible that Finland will postpone its decision beyond tomorrow.
Estonia has made a series of proposals not to be lumped in with countries for which quarantine requirements are in place. We have made similar proposals to Latvia.
Our interest is for our people to be able to travel outside of Estonia in our region.
Editor: Marcus Turovski