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Baltics ban passenger traffic with UK over new Covid-19 variant

BC, Riga, 21.12.2020.Print version
Taking into consideration reports of a new Covid-19 variant circulating in the United Kingdom, the Latvian government tonight banned passenger traffic with the UK from Monday, December 21, till January 1, State Chancellery spokeswoman Ilze Pavlova informed LETA.

Based on the Transport Ministry's proposal, the government on Sunday decided to temporarily halt international passenger transport to and from the UK in a bid to protect the public from the spread of the new coronavirus strain in Latvia.

There are currently three carriers operating flights from Riga to the UK: airBaltic, Ryanair and Wizzair. Latvia's airBaltic had planned 22 flights or 11 rotations to the UK before the end of this year. The airline had sold 1,004 tickets to these flights, including about 40 percent to London-Riga flights and the rest to Riga-London flights.

The Transport Ministry indicated that Latvia's decision is similar to decisions taken by other European Union member states which have halted flights to and from the UK until the situation with the new virus strain is clarified. The other EU countries have already suspended flights to and from the UK or are planning to do so.

Transport Minister Talis Linkaits (New Conservative Party) said that today that fast and targeted action that is coordinated with other EU member states is essential to ensure public health interests.

Lithuania on Sunday joined other European countries in imposing a ban on passenger flights from Britain, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said after an emergency cabinet meeting.

The ban, in effect from 4 a.m. on Monday until December 31, came after Britain announced that a new fast-spreading strain of coronavirus appeared in the country. The Cabinet did not suspend flights from Lithuania to the United Kingdom.  

"It's better to introduce restrictions now and then if we see that there's more clarity (...), it's easier to call off the restriction than introduce it too late," Simonyte told the Cabinet.

She said that Lithuania was coordinating its decisions with Latvia and Estonia, adding that "unfortunately, we still have no European decision". 

The government's office said in a press release that it was a joint decision of the three Baltic states.  

Health Minister Arunas Dulkys told the Cabinet that the measure was a precaution taken by many countries.  

He noted that there was "no conclusive evidence to suggest that this strain of the virus is more easily transmissible or that it causes more severe illness", adding that there were no general recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) or other international organizations as to what action counties should take. 

Transport Minister Marius Skuodis said that the government was not suspending flights to the UK. 

"If flights will be organized or are scheduled to depart tomorrow (on Monday), passengers will definitely be able to leave, though we don't recommend doing that unless necessary," he said.  

The minister advised Lithuanian citizens who are currently in the UK to stay there and not to try to find alternative flights to their home country. 

"Given the decisions that are being made or have been made by other EU member states, they may face serious problems," he said.  

While flights to the UK are not restricted, people may have problems leaving Lithuania, too, Skuodis warned.

"As to flights from Lithuania to the UK, yes, there may be some disruptions, because if a scheduled flight does not arrive (from the UK to Lithuania), then, naturally, it won't be able to leave either," he said. As reported, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the government has imposed a strict Christmas lockdown in London and southeast England because a new strain of the coronavirus was "out of control".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that millions must cancel Christmas plans and stay home because the new strain was spreading far more quickly.

The World Health Organization has called on its members in Europe to strengthen measures against coronavirus due to the new variant circulating in the United Kingdom.

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