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Tension arises over negative Covid-19 test requirement for travelers

From January 15, all arrivals in Latvia will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test. This rule has led to dissatisfaction, Latvian Radio reported January 12.

A Latvian PhD student from London plans to challenge the requirement at the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, the associate professor of medicine at the University of Latvia, Solvita Olsena, points out that this time the government has given good justification for why it has chosen such a rule.

In a post on Facebook, PhD student of European Union and International human rights Law Aleksandra Jolkina of Queen Mary University of London expressed her outrage over the new rules regarding the requirement for the negative Covid-19 test for travelers.

According to Jolkina, such a requirement violates the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits states from preventing their own citizens from entering their territory. Jolkina said that limiting human rights is only allowed in specific cases and must be appropriate. In her opinion, this is not the case.

“The notion that travelers from abroad contribute significantly to the spread of infection in Latvia simply does not correspond to the truth. This may have been the case in spring, but the virus is now in the country and the situation in Latvia is much worse than in most European countries.

"Secondly, the ban on entry without a test affects a very large group of people – in fact all Latvian nationals currently abroad. The state of Latvia essentially assumes that all nationals outside the country are sick with Covid-19 and ask them to prove the opposite. But that's not the case.

"Thirdly, tests must be presented by travelers from all countries around the world, even if the virus spread is very low or not found in that state at all,” said Jolkina.

She expressed that the possibilities of testing were not the same in all countries. In many countries of the European Union, these tests cost between €40 and €150 or €200, and up to a thousand kilometers may be required to travel to the test sites. Spending such time and money resources, she believes, is disproportionate. 

“If someone has the impression that people are still travelling en masse to Latvia on tourism trips, having fun or having nothing else to do, it is stupid, it is absurd. People now, of course, understand what the situation is. No one will go, fly, and buy tickets that are more expensive than before, if they don't have a serious reason,” Jolkina said.

Jolkina also calls on the Latvian government to take example from neighboring countries, Estonia and Lithuania, where the test can be carried out upon arrival in the country.

In Estonia, for example, entry is allowed for all citizens and residents of the country, whether or not they have symptoms of the disease. In Lithuania, however, it is necessary to register with the National Centre for Public Health within 12 hours of entering the country.

As stated on the website of the Ministry of Transport, a similar regulation will also come into force in Estonia and Lithuania from 15 January. It is stressed that every effort has been made to ensure that entry is not denied to anyone.

Solvita Olsena, associate professor of medicine at the University of Latvia, also thinks the requirement is appropriate.

“In my opinion, the government has given such good justification as to why it has chosen such a measure. Both the risks associated with travel and the data on how many people who entered have fallen ill afterwards and what it causes for us are identified.

Next, there is no travel ban. And it is clearly stated that travel bans, as they were in March, would not be the most appropriate tool.

Here are restrictions on people who want to travel by passenger carriers. They have to show a three-day-old Covid-19 negative test. It's not even stated that they should be Covid-19 negative when travelling,” Olsena said.

According to Professor Olsena, the government has made significant progress during the year in preparing various rules, since there was initially an impression that the first restrictions were approved without any analysis.

Olsena also said that the government needs to carefully justify the restriction of any rights, but the people, if they are not satisfied with such decisions, have the right to challenge them.

Aleksandra Jolkina has planned to submit her complaint to the Constitutional Court.

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