Entry restrictions between Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are being lifted in a first step to restoring freedom of movement inside Europe’s Schengen Area.
Australia and New Zealand might have set a global example by touting the idea of a “travel bubble” between them in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it seems they will not be the first countries to establish such a quarantine-free zone.
This Friday, May 15, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will reopen their borders to each other’s citizens and create a travel bubble within the European Union. This would allow a combined 5.9 million people (a little more than Singapore’s current population) a much greater degree of movement. However, anyone arriving from outside the bloc will still have to spend 14 days in quarantine. In a press conference last week, Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis said the free-travel zone between the three countries could eventually be expanded to include Poland and Finland, two fellow EU members. Skvernelis also said his Estonian and Latvian counterparts shared the view that “only countries which successfully dealt with the situation can open themselves up.”
The joint decision by the three heads of state will help to restart their nations’ interdependent economies, allowing regional trade and tourism to once again thrive. After grounding its entire fleet for nearly a month, the Latvian flag carrier AirBaltic is preparing to resume scheduled flights on May 13, with initial services between its hub in Riga and short-haul destinations such as Tallinn—Estonia’s commercial center and main tourist draw—as well as the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Both are considered focus cities for the airline.
The Baltic states have been more successful than the larger European nations in curbing the spread of Covid-19. All three recorded significant declines in the number of infections over the past few weeks, and Estonia has seen new confirmed cases drop to single digits for 10 consecutive days.