Latvia could burst quarantine-free travel in 'Baltic bubble'

Riga, Latvia.
Riga, Latvia. Source: ERR

The Latvian Ministry of Health told ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Thursday that there have been no discussions about changing movement conditions within the "Baltic bubble" yet. Prime Minister Krišjanis Karinš however has stated that quarantine-free travel within the Baltics could end on Friday.

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia lifted their travel restrictions in May, enabling free movement of people within the three Baltic states, thus creating the "Baltic bubble".

Citizens and residents of the Baltic states were allowed to travel within the "Baltic bubble" without self-isolating upon crossing the internal borders, provided that they had not been outside the Baltic states in the past 14 days, that they were not in self-isolation already and had no symptoms of respiratory illness.

Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics informed other ministers of the other Baltic states' coronavirus-related situation on Wednesday, referring to his Baltic colleagues who have voiced concerns about the uptick in COVID-19 cases in their countries, asking at the same time if Latvia would agree to introduce a temporary regulation and exempt those arriving in Latvia from Lithuania and Estonia from 14-day self-isolation. 

Experts and politicians find that there should be no exemptions in terms of the 14-day quarantine period because those same regulations have been the cause of why Latvia's cumulative number of COVID-19 cases has remained as low as it has, slightly below 5 per 100,000 inhabitants as of Friday, September 4.

The two-week self-isolation requirement has worked well to keep the spread of COVID-19 in Latvia among the lowest of all Europe. If travel restrictions are imposed, the country should be able to monitor all travelers and patients.

Latvian police has monitored thousands of quarantiners over the last months and an electronic database will be active in a month.

Latvian Prime Minister Krišjanis Karinš said Wednesday: "The primary means, which we have been able to protect our people from a large-scale infection with, has been a two-week quarantine obligation. To all travelers arriving from countries which our Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) has deemed 'yellow' or 'red' and where infection rates exceed that of Latvia's."

He added that the so-called "Baltic bubble" is likely to cease to exist this Friday, as Latvia will most likely set quarantine requirements for the other Baltic states.

Only professional athletes will be exempt partly from the self-isolation requirement. Replacing the two-week quarantine period with testing, as Estonia has done, is not on the table, according to representatives of the Latvian CDC.

The Latvian government has decided to allow for more direct flights from the capital city of Riga - to all European states where the two-week infection rate does not exceed 92 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Latvia finds that the Baltic neighbors have ignored the 25 per 100,000 inhabitants requirement for direct flight cancellations, leading to people returning to Latvia via Estonia or Lithuania, where the risk of infection is greater.

Latvian Minister for Health Ilze Vinkele commented: "Compared to neighboring countries, our situation is ensured by basing our political decisions on the views of experts. I can confirm - being in constant cooperation with colleagues from Lithuania and Estonia - the ministries of healthcare for our neighbors are in much more dire situations. The expert council decisions, which my colleagues take to government, are adjusted politically. And now we can see the results."

The Latvian government is to decide on a self-isolation requirement for Estonia and Lithuania later on Friday.

The aformentioned prime minister of Latvia has previously stated that the so-called "Baltic bubble" will cease to exist as of Friday, backed by comments made by the health minister of Latvia.

Latvian public broadcaster LSM reported on Friday that health minister Ilze Vinkele acknowledged that conditions for Lithuania and Estonia will be more nuanced than for the other European countries, but exactly what they will be, the government will decide.

Vinkele found that the government's meeting will be difficult in deciding the situation with Estonia and Lithuania - Latvia can decide in favor of a freer relationship with neighbors, but this increases the risk that there will be more severe restrictions in Latvia and that "society does not want to do this because we are living almost normally", said Vinkele.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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