Riga hosts first meeting of Baltic FMs after coronavirus lockdown



The foreign ministers of the three Baltic countries met in Riga on Friday in the first such face-to-face event after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating what they described “new normality.”

Latvia’s Edgars Rinkevics, Lithuania’s Linas Linkevicius and Estonia’s Urmas Reinsalu gathered here to sign a memorandum of understanding reopening the Baltic states for travel by air, sea, road and rail, and outlining a plan for cooperation in combating the pandemic crisis.

At a joint news conference that followed the ministerial meeting, the Lithuanian foreign minister told reporters that the trilateral meeting sent a message of optimism and hope.

“The meeting is not just a celebration. It is the beginning of hard work. I believe that the public has to receive hope and reassurance of an exit from the COVID-19 crisis. Such signals are really needed now,” Linkevicius said.

The Latvian foreign minister indicated that the meeting symbolized the beginning of life in new normality. The novel coronavirus will still be around for some time until a vaccine and treatment are available. In the meantime, new rules are being created.

“While meeting, we follow several restrictions. For instance, we do not shake hands and do not hand the memorandum to each other, we keep the distance. For a while, we all will have to live with such restrictions,” Rinkevics said.

The Estonian foreign minister said that the three ministers’ meeting in Riga was not meant to encourage mass travel. Travel warnings still remain in place and Baltic health authorities are urging people to follow them, Reinsalu said.

“By gradually phasing out restrictions, we are providing additional guarantees to all Baltic citizens. By doing so, we are demonstrating our commitment to working together. If there is a valid reason to take more steps forward, we will do so because we have full trust in each other. This is the main precondition for taking further measures,” Reinsalu said.

The trilateral memorandum of understanding on the reopening of the common borders of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania has been signed in addition to the Baltic prime ministers’ May 6 decision on the resumption of travel within the Baltics and each government’s individual resolutions, the foreign ministers said in their joint statement.

The Latvian government on Thursday greenlighted the resumption of passenger traffic with its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia.

In order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Latvia had temporarily suspended all international passenger traffic via its airports, ports and border crossings since March 17, allowing only some exceptions to repatriate its nationals stuck in foreign countries.

On Thursday, the Latvian government amended its decree on the national state of emergency to allow air, sea, bus and rail travel to and from Lithuania and Estonia to resume as of May 15.



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