In a bid to jump-start economies broken down by the Coronavirus pandemic, the Baltic states-Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have opened their borders to each other on Friday midnight creating the first 'travel bubble' within the European Union. The citizens and residents of the three sparsely populated Baltic nations will be free to travel within the region, however, anyone entering from outside will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said in a statement that the Baltic 'Travel Bubble' is an opportunity for businesses to reopen, and a glimmer of hope for the people that life is getting back to normal.
The move by the Baltic neighbours comes as the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, seeks to influence the 27 member states to reopen internal borders and restart wider travel, with safety measures such as face masks on airplanes.
New Coronavirus infections in the three Baltic republics have now slowed to a trickle with none of the countries reporting more than seven new cases on Wednesday, and authorities have loosened lockdowns since late April. The region as a whole has recorded fewer than 150 deaths from the virus infection, far below individual larger eurozone countries such as Italy, Spain, France or Germany.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — the three poorest members of the eurozone, expect their economies to shrink by between seven and eight percent this year, in line with the rest of the currency union. Lithuania has warned of a 'double-digit' drop if economies are not reopened by the summer.
Estonia has given an emergency loan of 100 million euros ($108m) to Baltic Sea shipping firm Tallink, severely hit by the region's lockdowns, while Lithuania is setting up a state-run facility to provide loans or assume assets of key companies if they do not survive the crisis.
The Baltic countries were quick to close their borders and impose lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, the travel restrictions were eased between Finland and Estonia, as well as between Poland and Lithuania, this week, but only for those on the move for business or education. However, neither Poland nor Finland are rushing to join the full 'travel union with their Baltic neighbours as yet, despite an invitation to do so.