As the COVID-19 disease has spread, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has been warning, in a timely and systematic manner, about difficulties travellers can expect abroad and about additional security measures introduced by various countries. On 12 March, when the list of “affected countries” hardest hit by the novel coronavirus had increased to 20 and COVID-19 was recognised as a pandemic, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a travel alert cautioning Latvian nationals against travelling outside Latvia.
Since 14 March, when the Cabinet passed a decision on suspending international passenger traffic in Latvia (a state of emergency had already been declared on 12 March), the Latvian MFA, working closely together with the Latvian Ministry of Transport, the national carrier airBaltic and other passenger carriers as well as in cooperation with their Estonian, Lithuanian and Nordic colleagues, has assisted one and a half thousand Latvian nationals on their return home. At the same time, other travellers have been brought home using routes recommended by the MFA or using ways they found themselves, through Lithuania, Estonia and other transit hubs which were still accessible.
In order to help travellers from Latvia return home, on 16 March, the Latvian Foreign Ministry urged those travelling to find ways to reach airports in Europe and Istanbul and register themselves with the Consular Register. This approach enabled many to also return to Latvia from far-away corners of the Earth within two weeks. A total of 21 special flights from eight different countries have already taken place and are scheduled in the days ahead. With this background in mind, the MFA draws the conclusion that by 27 March or shortly after all those Latvian travellers who responded to the MFA’s call and used the transportation options offered and who did not encounter insurmountable obstacles will have been able to return.
The aim of the state of emergency was to restrict the movement of persons so that as few people in Latvia as possible would be infected with COVID-19 – and the disease would spread slower. Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also specifically warned all travellers that their return home means strict compliance with decisions adopted in Latvia, including going into self-isolation for 14 days. In the interests of public health and under conditions of the state of emergency, no state-organised repatriation flights are scheduled to take place after 27 March. At the same time, to enable travellers who are currently in far removed regions with irregular traffic to Europe to return to Latvia, the very last repatriation flight operated by airBaltic will take place from Frankfurt on 30 March.
Not all Latvians who are currently travelling abroad have decided to return to Latvia. Individuals decide on their own whether to make the return journey, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs respects the choice Latvian nationals have made to remain in places where they happen to be as well as the choice to travel in the first place.
Not all the travellers have been able to return to Latvia by the end of March due to restrictions on transportation on the route home. Therefore, the Latvian Foreign Ministry continues cooperation with other EU Member States to ensure the repatriation to Europe of those travellers who need it. Those repatriation flights are not regular or standard; they bring back the nationals of various EU countries from third countries outside the EU but they do not ensure that passengers are transported directly to their home countries. Therefore, from April onwards, possibilities for return will be considered on a case-by-case basis, when travellers are gathered at certain places.
All the latest updates are published on the Latvian MFA social media accounts including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Please pay special attention to the Consular Department’s Facebook site on travelling safely, Ceļo droši (facebook.com/celodrosi)
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