AK: Latvia's stricter COVID-19 rules still eased in Valga-Valka

Latvian border guard personnel conducting checks.
Latvian border guard personnel conducting checks. Source: ERR

While Latvia and Estonia have comparatively similar coronavirus rates at present, restrictions are noticeably stricter south of the border, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday. The Valga-Valka 'bubble' remains in place, however.

Experts in Latvia are being increasingly asked why the coronavirus restrictions differ from those of the other two Baltic states and other countries, AK reported, with the answer from some being collective responsibility.

Uga Dumpis, Latvia's chief infections specialist, told AK that: "Norway and Finland have been able to control their infections with fewer restrictions than we have, due to the public being united."

Police patrols on both sides of the boarder were visibly stepped-up on Sunday, AK reported, with the Latvian force paying even more attention on whether those entering from Estonia have filled in a coronavirus declaration form electronically.

Valga-Valka compromises, still fewer restrictions north of border

One of the most pertinent regions of all covers the twin towns of Valga (Estonia) and Valka (Latvia), which have seen exemptions on border crossings from the earliest stages of the pandemic in spring, to reflect the close economic, family and other ties there.

Whereas a planned Christmas market is out of the question in Valka – in Latvia outdoor markets are barred – its Valga counterpart has gone ahead, albeit with restrictions.

One trader at the market, Heino Johanson, from the Võlli-Kingu farm, told AK that: "Public attendance has not fallen at the fair, and people are still spending money."

Alcohol, too, is more available on the Estonian side of the border, where it is sold in stores at the weekend until 10 p.m. – in Latvia weekend alcohol sales in stores have been banned.

Similarly, while beauty salons are closed in Latvia, and concerts and theater performances have not gone ahead, in Estonia, these are still operating, albeit with restrictions too.

Latvia: Rates have prompted tougher restrictions

Latvia's economics minister Janis Vitenbergs explained the tougher regulations in terms of numbers in particular societal sectors: "Up to a hundred shopping mall workers have fallen ill each week, lately. That is quite a big figure."

Friday night saw a last minute dash to shopping malls ahead of closure through to January 11, bringing traffic and public transport practically to a standstill.

Nonetheless, Estonia and Latvia's 14-day infection rates per 100,000 residents are similar; Latvia's was 453.1 as of Friday; Estonia's latest figure is 523.1. Lithuania's is around twice the rate, at 1,205.9 as of Friday. Finland's rate was 112.0 on the same day.

Weekend, stricter regulations on in-person shopping have been extended through the week there, with e-shopping being encouraged.

Cross-border education has been affected too: Joy Studio, a Latvian organization which holds children's hobby classes on both sides of the border at Valga-Valka, has been trying to solve the labyrinth of differing restrictions, director Marina Jerjomina told AK.

She said: "Everything is banned in Latvia, and has been for a long time now. Distance learning has been in place for two months now, and all hobby and interest groups have been shuttered nationwide, with just Valga-Valka remaining as a still a separate 'island'."

"This is because it is impossible here to ascertain whether, for example, if a man works in Valka and a woman in Valga. But their children study in a Latvian school, then go to hobby groups on the Estonian side of the border," she added.

All three Baltic States decided in unison to cut flight links with the U.K. following reports of a new, much more potent strain of COVID-19 being detected in that country. The bar was announced in Estonia Sunday night and will run to the new year.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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