'Baltic bubble' likely to burst on Friday

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The 'Baltic bubble' -- the name given by officials to the open internal borders and single travel zone of the Baltic states despite the COVID-19 virus -- is likely to come to an end on Friday September 4, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš signalled September 2 during a cabinet meeting.

As the incidence of COVID-19 has increased markedly in Lithuania and Estonia, the "Baltic bubble" will no longer be sustainable as quarantine requirements will likely need to be introduced, Kariņš (New Unity party) admitted.

As previously reported by LSM, the "Baltic bubble" arrived with much fanfare in May and was touted as evidence that the Baltic states' handling of coronavirus was among the best in the world and closely aligned between the three states.

However, while all three countries remain relatively good in global terms, both Estonia and Lithuania have in recent days seen a worrying surge in reported infections.

Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs (New Unity) briefed government officials on data showing that the 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on September 2 was 16.28 in Lithuania and 14.72 in Estonia. In Latvia the rate is far lower at 3.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on August 29.

The current threshold for compulsory self-isolation upon entry to Latvia is 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Rinkēvičs referred to a conversation with his Baltic counterparts, who expressed concern about rising morbidity rates in their countries, while asking whether Latvia would agree to a temporary agreement exempting them from the requirement for mandatory 14-day self-isolation if a person returned to Latvia from Lithuania or Estonia.

The Foreign Minister added that if Latvia does not agree to such an interim agreement, the government will have to decide on resolving this situation on the border, for example, in the twin towns of Valka (Latvia) and Valga (Estonia).

However, the Prime Minister emphasized that he did not support the proposal to abolish self-isolation requirements for people coming from Lithuania. "As the head of government, I do not support it. How can we justify not observing self-isolation with one territory if it endangers our health?" Kariņš said.

At the same time, the Prime Minister added that the situation with the border needs to be addressed, so it cannot be ruled out that another extraordinary meeting of the government could be convened this week.

The Prime Minister was supported by the Minister of Health Ilze Viņķele (Development/For!), who also took part in the conversation between the Ministers of Health and Foreign Affairs of the Baltic States yesterday.

"The neighbors are extremely motivated to keep this Baltic bubble, but they are pushing us into a corner," Viņķele said, insisting a "uniform approach" was necessary to tackling COVID-19.


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