Latvia is to permit essential flights to and from 'third' countries from March 17, that country's public broadcaster, LSM, reports. The move has been made after Latvian citizens and residents have been traveling to Estonia, or Lithuania, to make flights after Latvia closed links in February, returning via the same routes and thus running the risk of bringing back virulent coronavirus strains from either country, and beyond, into Latvia.
Latvia's government made the announcement Tuesday, LSM's English-language portal reports; flights run by tour operators to and from third countries – a loosely-defined term usually pertaining to non-EU/EEA/Schengen Zone states – will also be permissible.
The transport ministry in Latvia says this model will allow better monitoring of travelers and making sure that epidemiological security measures are respected, given there are more stringent checks at the airport than on land borders.
Non-essential travel to and from third countries is still barred, the Latvian government said.
The change is also aimed at breathing life into the aviation sector, LSM reports. Riga Airport is a transport hub serving both Estonia and Lithuania as well as Latvia; state airline airBaltic has received aid to the tune of €250 million so far.
The number of cases brought into Latvia through 2020 via air transport from abroad is reported at around 250 (out of nearly 41,000 cases) LSM reports; Latvia's 14-day case rate per 100,000 inhabitants stood at 447.4 on Tuesday, compared with 1,361.7 per 100,000 for Estonia.
At the same time, while proof of passing negative on a coronavirus test is a requirement to enter the country, meaning risk and consequently rates have reportedly fallen, air travel to third countries and places further afield brings more potential for further instances of "exotic" strains of the coronavirus, such as the so-called British and South African variants, to still enter Latvia.
The ruling on its own does not change Latvia's land border regime on its frontier with Estonia and with EU residents as a whole, which it closed early on in February.
Latvian citizens and residents can freely enter Estonia for the purpose of work, study or receiving health services, or for family reasons, or for transit as noted above, while citizens and residents not in those categories can still enter Estonia if they provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result from the preceding 72 hours.
Latvia's coronavirus travel requirements page is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte