Tourism companies eager for further flight restriction relaxations

Tallinn Airport.
Tallinn Airport. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Flight restrictions in Estonia have been some of the strictest in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, though the government eased them over the last week. The decision to do so was welcomed by scientists and Tallinn Airport alike, but tourism companies are in favor of even further relaxations.

Aivo Takis, board member at travel agency Estravel, said the company's results for September show that turnover has dropped sixfold when compared with 2019. "Why it is that way, we have tried to figure out and we have concluded from thousands of respondents that the reason is not that people are scared of dying from the COVID-19 virus, but that they are afraid of the confusion and uncertainty regarding travel plans," Takis said on Sunday's "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal".

The state has restricted direct flights, but the government made a decision on September 29 to allow them to countries with a 14-day infection rate per 100,000 inhabitants no higher than double the European average. Currently, that number is a bit under 200, meaning direct flights are currently not allowed to just a select few European countries. Under the old regime of coronavirus rates of 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, direct links would be off the table to the vast majority of European states.

While Takis finds that the limit should be lost completely, Tallinn Airport marketing manager Eero Pärgmäe welcomes the decision because it is a concrete one.

Pärgmäe said: "We have waited for it for some time, it means that our clients, flight companies and ourselves are able to open important lines for the Estonian economy starting next week (Monday, October 5 - ed.). We are talking of Oslo, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin, not mass tourism but economical development and maintenance."

Irja Lutsar, head of the government's COVID-19 scientific council, also considered the decision reasonable. Takis however did not understand why tourism should not be allowed in some cases, particularly considering the infection rate in many countries being lower than the coronavirus-stricken Ida-Viru County, in Estonia, with its 137.1 per 100,000 people, as of October 4.

The government is to begin discussing lifting the limit on self-isolation from the existing 16 per 100,000 inhabitants this week. One of the main problems in travel is the lack of common regulations across Europe. The European Commission has proposed common restrictions, and European Union member states are currently discussing same.

Henrik Hololei, director general of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, said the number of travelers has dropped by 80 percent, with everyone awaiting clear directives.

For instance, one of the European Commission's proposals is to lift the self-isolation requirement for travelers arriving from countries where the 14-day infection rate is below 50, if at least 250 tests are conducted weekly in the particular country in question.

However, consensus is possible, Holohei went on.

He said: "I think some agreement will be reached; discussions took place this week, they will continue next week on whether or not they will be implemented. But the large question is if they will be implemented across all EU countries. Today we are in a situation where countries have established different principles."


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte

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