Latvian health minister: Not likely to raise coronavirus bar on entry

Latvian flag flies over Riga, the capital.
Latvian flag flies over Riga, the capital. Source: ERR

Latvia says it is not likely to raise its coroanvirus infection rate ceiling from its current level, following news that it has ended unrestricted entry into the country from Estonia, after the latter's reported COVID-19 rate exceeded the 16-cases-per-100,000 inhabitants limit. Estonia itself has raised the rate to 25, meaning arrivals from Latvia and FInland do not need to quarantine.

Latvia's latest reported coronavirus rate is considerably lower than Estonia's: A little over four, compared with close to 22. Its neighbor to the south, Lithuania, is just below the 16 per 100,000 rate

The country's health minister, Ilze Vinkele, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Friday that no plans to raise the limit to 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants were in place, meaning Estonia remains on the amber list where those entering Latvia have to self-quarantine for two weeks. 

"We do not have the support of the people, and the prime minister (Krišjānis Kariņš – ed.) certainly does not support [raising the rate]," Vinkele told AK.

"I won't be passing on this type of proposal to the government either. At least as long as we have such a small number of infections. The reality is that we have less than five infections [per 100,000].  

Vinkele said that not imposing quarantine could lead to a rise in Latvia's COVID-19 rate.

"We would be creating an opportunity for the virus to spread faster. This means that as a countermeasure, stricter restrictions would need to be imposed in the country. For example, the obligation to wear a mask, even when on public transport. This is definitely not what our people want," she said. 

Latvian authorities also plan to reduce mandatory quarantine times, from next week, however.

One exception concerns the twin towns of Valka and Valga, on the Latvian and Estonian side of the border respectively. Residents in both municipalities can freely travel within those two areas, though Valga (Estonia) residents may not travel deeper into Latvian territory than the confines of Valka.

Other exceptions include compassionate exemptions such as for a funeral or medical treatment reasons, as well as transit to a third country, within a 12 hour period.

 Latvia's deputy police chief says that current border patrols will not be stepped up as things stand, and the scheme will for the meantime rely on common sense and public responsibility.

Both Latvia's scientific and political communities have generally been saying that no exceptions should be made in its coronavirus rate limit, including with its nearest neighbors, though Estonia had crept above the 16 per 100,000 rate prior to the implementation of the new regime in Latvia. 

Those arriving in Latvia will soon have to complete a questionnaire whose data will be stored electronically; as of now a form must be filled in.

Estonia's northern neighbor, Finland, may be raising its limit to 25 per 100,000 in the next two weeks, the foreign ministry says.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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