While nonessential travel has come to an abrupt stop around the world, Europe’s three Baltic countries will restart movement between their countries next week. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have been on the steady road to recovery, and their regional initiative is a start on the path to normalcy.
Their steps follow plans announced by Australia and New Zealand, two countries that have successfully tackled the virus, to create a “travel bubble” between them. The regional opening of the Baltic states will allow free movement among their borders as of May 15, according to Reuters. Any international visitors that arrive, however, will still need to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry.
“It’s a big step towards life as normal,” Jüri Ratas, Estonia’s prime minister, tweeted.
Agreed in a video call with @krisjaniskarins and @Skvernelis_S on opening internal borders between 🇪🇪-🇱🇻 and 🇱🇹-🇱🇻 to the people of Baltic States from 15 May. It's a big step towards life as normal. pic.twitter.com/Md9hKjJRMl
— Jüri Ratas (@ratasjuri) May 6, 2020
The Baltic prime ministers said their readiness to reopen is based on how the region has dealt with COVID-19 so far, advising the rest of Europe to consider similar initiatives when they are also in a position to do so.
“We showed a good example by stating, very clearly, that only countries which successfully dealt with the situation can open themselves up,” said Saulius Skvernelis, Lithuania’s prime minister.
As of May 5, reported figures of new COVID-19 cases in all three of the Baltic countries have trickled down to single digits. The death rate since the beginning of the pandemic has been relatively low, with 55 deaths in Estonia, 48 in Lithuania, and 17 in Latvia.
The effort comes at a time when the region’s core drive to return to normalcy is finally looking realistic. “This is a very important stimulus for regional tourism businesses. It will not get them back to where they were, but many jobs will be saved,” said the head of the tourism lobby in Lithuania, Zydre Gaveliene.
The new “travel bubble” will likely result in a much-anticipated reunion between friends and family members stuck in separate Baltic countries since the international travel ban came into effect.