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Flights to third countries to be permitted from March 17

Starting next Wednesday, March 17, flights to and from third countries will be permitted, including those organized by tour operators, the Ministry of Transport said March 9.

However, non-essential travel from third countries to Latvia will be prohibited.

The Ministry of Transport (SM) indicated that changes were needed to improve epidemiological controls as currently loopholes are being exploited.

In other countries, including Estonia and Lithuania, international passenger travel to and from third countries is permitted, including charter flights to tourism destinations. As a result some Latvian residents are using transit through these countries, then returning to Latvia by road. The Ministry said that this type of travel reduces the possibilities of tracking travelers and making sure that epidemiological security measures are respected.

Allowing flights from Latvia would allow the authorities to monitor travelers, because there are more stringent checks at the airport than on land borders.

The SM also said that the Covid-19 crisis for the aviation sector in 2020 has led to a significant drop in passengers, flights and revenues. The lifting of the ban on passenger transport to and from third countries will have a positive impact on the functioning and competitiveness of the Rīga international airport and the airline airBaltic, as Latvia has remained one of the last Member States of the European Union which prevents such transport and consequently negatively affects the competitiveness of the aviation industry.

According to the Ministry, compared to the spread of the disease within Latvia, the number of cases of Covid-19 imported into the country is small, particularly the number of cases imported by air. In 2020, 40,904 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in Latvia, of which there are 892 cases brought in from abroad, of which 250 cases are via air transport, representing 0.61% of all confirmed cases. Moreover, since the entry into force of the requirement to carry out the Covid-19 test before travelling, the number of cases imported has continued to decrease.

However, air travel to far-flung destinations does also offer the potential for more exotic new strains of Covid-19 to be brought back to the country. 

When entering Latvia, the current safety measures must be observed – not more than 72 hours before boarding the vehicle of the carrier the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test must be performed and a statement of negative result must be produced before boarding, an e-statement must be completed on the site “covidpass.lv” 48 hours before entering Latvia.

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